March 4, 2022
Determining a realistic yield potential remains the greatest challenge for North Carolina cotton farmers year in and year out due to the unique weather challenges where it can be cold and wet at planting and then comes the ever-present threat of hurricanes at harvest.
Indeed, North Carolina cotton farmers know better than anyone that no two years are the same when it comes to successfully producing a crop. More often than not, the challenging weather years outnumber the years where the weather cooperates.
Keeping this in mind, North Carolina State University Extension Cotton Specialist Guy Collins is advising farmers not to expect a repeat performance of 2021 which turned out to be one of the best cotton years the state’s farmers have ever seen.
In winter cotton meetings across North Carolina this year, Collins once again reminded cotton growers to plant more than one variety to mitigate risks. He continued to emphasize that variety selection is still the most important decision a cotton farmer makes each year.
“I don’t want to make my budgeting plans off one of the better years on record. We have to look longer-term than that. The only way to hedge against risk is to plant several varieties. We have good competitive options from all the different brands. Plant a higher proportion of your acreage to your tried-and-true varieties, ones that have been around two to three years and have shown consistent performance across the board,” Collins said at a cotton meeting at the Wilson County Extension Center in Wilson.
Moreover, 2022 looks to be a particularly challenging year with production costs expected to be at an all-time high. Collins urges farmers to make sure each input purchased delivers real value and is supported by replicated research and Extension recommendations.
And when it comes to variety selection, Collins is advising farmers to only look to varieties that have appeared in the North Carolina State on-farm and OVT (Official Variety Trial) tests and are replicated. Importantly, he urged farmers to look at varieties from multiple trials over multiple years.
One thing is certain, Collins said to avoid untested varieties because they are just that: Untested. He also advised farmers to limit acreage planted to brand new varieties with limited data behind them.
He urged farmers to first look at trials closest to their farm, but to broaden that to regional trials as well as those in other parts of the state. He said farmers need a big picture approach when it comes to variety selection.
“Every grower I know seems to think their soils, their management is somehow unique, and it may be in some ways. But with regards to variety selection, it’s probably not,” Collins said.
And while cotton prices are expected to remain strong this year, record high production costs will bring challenges, particularly since it is unknown what weather farmers will face throughout the year. Collins urged farmers to plan for realistic yields that covers their input costs.
“Most everybody I know has some fat to trim. By that, I don’t mean cutting corners,” he said.
He pointed to nitrogen as an example. Collins cited data compiled by fellow North Carolina State Extension Cotton Specialist Keith Edmisten that shows cotton farmers can make yields of three to four bales per acre with 80 to 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre. He says this shows there is no need to apply 150 pounds of nitrogen per acre.
“Reducing my nitrogen rates to 80 pounds, that’s fat to trim. Cutting corners would be putting out 80 units of nitrogen and going down to 30 units to save money. It’s not the same thing,” Collins said.
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