Cotton fungicide treatments — while costly — will pay for themselves three years out of five, plant pathologists agree.

Will you recoup the costs of an in-furrow or hopper box fungicide treatment in 2002? That's anyone's guess, but Mississippi State University plant pathologist Gabe Sciumbato says it's insurance you should consider.

“In a very severe seedling disease year, nothing may work to completely protect your cotton crop, and in years of extremely light disease pressure you are essentially wasting your money with a fungicide application,” he notes. “But, that one in-furrow or hopper box fungicide application can often make the difference between achieving a stand of healthy seedlings or not achieving a stand at all.”

How much of a stand increase you will see — is based on the weather after planting, and the disease history of each field, he says.

If you choose to cover your bets against cotton seedling disease, plan to spend $10 to $12 per acre for an in-furrow fungicide application, or $3 to $5 per acre for a hopper box treatment. Fungicide seed treatments are less expensive and the price is often built into the cost of a bag of cottonseed, but Sciumbato questions the level of protection provided by these products when planting in cool, wet weather.

“It's just a matter of active ingredient — you can only get so much fungicide on the seed. For this reason, hopper box fungicide treatments aren't quite as effective as in-furrow treatments, but they're still better than a fungicide seed treatment,” he says. “The earlier in the season you are planting, the more of an advantage you will get from an in-furrow application over a hopper box fungicide treatment.”

Extension specialists say they are often asked if a grower should consider using an in-furrow fungicide or simply use a hopper-box treatment?

The scale, according to the Mississippi State University Extension Service, tips in favor of an in-furrow fungicide treatment if you can answer “yes” to at least two of these questions:

  • Are you planting into soil below 65 degrees?
  • Does the five-day forecast call for cold, wet weather?
  • Does the cottonseed you are planting have a cold germination test value of less than 59 percent?
  • Does the field you are planting into have a severe disease history?
  • Are you planting into a no-till production system?
  • Are you planting flat instead of into beds?
  • Is your seeding rate less than three seeds per foot?
  • Are you using an in-furrow insecticide or nematicide?

The need for a fungicide treatment is compounded if you are planting at lower seeding rates in an effort to save money, or if you are applying an insecticide or nematicide in-furrow.

“If you use in-furrow insecticide you're predisposing seeds to seedling disease so it's even more important to use a fungicide either in-furrow or hopper box,” Sciumbato says.

“A lot of farmers are leaving in-furrow and/or hopper box fungicide treatments off to save money this year, but that decision may come back to haunt them. It's a matter of how much insurance you can afford to buy to protect your cotton crop from seedling disease.”

For those cotton growers who are aware of a field's strong seedling disease history, and who are planting relatively early in the season, Sciumbato strongly recommends investing in either hopper box or in-furrow fungicide treatment.

The biggest disease risk for Delta cotton growers, especially those planting into the lighter cotton soils, is Rhizoctonia. “About 80 percent of the disease problems we see are caused by this disease,” he says.

To further minimize damage from seedling disease, Mississippi State University recommends planting on raised beds only in warm, fertile soil with seeds that germinate quickly and produce vigorous seedlings. It's also recommended that you use an in-furrow or hopper-box fungicide treatment and use some type of implement to move trash away from the row when planting no-till.

Cotton growers have many fungicide products, and types of products, to choose from including: Ridomil Gold EC, Ridomil Gold PC and Ridomil Gold GR, Quadris, Rovral, Terraclor Super X, Delta Coat, Delta Coat AD, Prevail, and Protégé.

Sciumbato is also urging cotton growers to be vigilant about seed quality in 2002. “It's especially important this year to check to see if your seed quality and vigor is good because much of the Mid-South's seed supply was destroyed in 2001, and your 2002 cottonseed is likely being trucked in from somewhere else.”