How much does it cost to grow a pound of cotton?
That's one of the most important concerns farmers face as they as they prepare for the 2020 growing season, says Tucker Miller III, an independent consultant in the Mississippi Delta.
Miller touched on rising weed and pest control costs and other concerns at the National Conservation Systems Cotton and Rice Conference in Memphis, Tenn.
He said choosing the right variety and trying cover crops to help control pigweeds also merit attention.
"Seed treatments, planting preparation, weed management, equipment (such as cotton pickers) and land rent all cost a great deal," Miller said. "Of course, you need a good yield to pay production costs and make money.
"As a consultant, I have dealt with resistance and worm problems in the two-gene Bollgard II cotton. We had good control with Bollgard I, and then lost control and had to over-spray. Bollgard II worked well for several years, but now history is repeating itself."
Miller doesn't like to wait until he sees 20% egg counts in the field.
"I'm not going to wait until 20% before spraying for moths," Miller said. "I'm going to try to get them early. If I'm finding 5% to 6% of eggs in the field and see moths flying, I'm going to spray Prevathon full rate. It's better to start early when the eggs are down in the canopy."
Acephate is a good insecticide for moths in cotton, he said. Diamond works well on plant bugs.
"Plant bugs are another big pest in Mississippi," Miller said. "I like to use three applications of Diamond. We use Transform and Diamond, Acephate and Diamond, or Bidrin and Diamond. We swap it out every so often to hold back resistance, but we like to use some combination with Diamond, using short intervals and heavy pressure if needed. Transform also works well for us.
Planting dates and varieties
"Try to plant a variety you can plant early and avoid late-season spraying." Choose the right variety for you.
"The highest-yielding variety in one trial was 1,534 pounds per acre, the medium was 1,365, and 1,234 the lowest. If you do the math, you can see a difference of around 120 pounds, depending on the variety. That could cost you maybe $100 an acre if you pick the wrong variety," Miller said.
Cover crops for weeds
Pigweed and barnyardgrass pose problems in cotton. Catch them early, Miller advises.
"You need the machine power and the manpower to eliminate weeds before they get out of hand," he said. "They seem to grow 2 inches overnight, so you need to act quickly.
"We grow cereal rye to help manage pigweeds. I was worried about the thrips in cotton, but it hasn't been a problem for us. We planted about 30 or 40 pounds of cereal rye, and we sprayed it with Roundup. We didn't mow it down or anything, and just planted into it. It saved an application of dicamba, and we did not have any pigweeds until later in the season, which wasn't as bad as usual."
Tucker plants resistant varieties to control bacterial blight. However, fungicides for target spot seem to work only 20% of the time and is an expensive application.
"Consider if it's worth it," Miller said. "Are you going to get your money's worth in the end? Usually, you aren't. From what I've seen, target spot isn't as bad as we first thought. Instead, keep the cotton plant manageable with plant growth regulators to keep it producing fruit."