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Protect cotton plants early the right way

Three crop consultants offer tips on early season protection, including seed treatments, in-furrow treatments, sprays and cultural practices.

Okay. You finally booked your preferred cotton varieties for 2020. How do you protect them early to give them the best possible start to jam the gin yard at the end of the season? Three independent crop consultants offer several tips on early season protection, including seed treatments, in-furrow treatments, sprays and cultural practices.

“Basically, we do not try to plant real early because when we do in our part of the country, south of Lubbock, it’s a hit or miss deal,” says west Texas consultant Mark Scott. We want to hit that weather sweet spot with our planting if we can, generally May 10 through May 20. However, some growers will get in earlier just because they have so many acres to plant.”

Scott’s growers buy high-quality seed with the technology traits that they need. The standard seed treatments that come with the seed do a good job of protecting seed and seedlings.

“Our main early season problems include fusarium, rhyzoctonia, pythium, and thielaviopsis basicola, depending on the year,” he says. “We don’t see as many seedling disease issues as we used to since we started planting high quality seed with all the improved seed treatments. We still have disease if weather conditions are conducive.

“Additionally, nematodes — root knot mainly — and reniform in some areas, always present a problem for us. A nematicide seed treatment helps, and we also try to plant nematode-tolerant varieties in fields with a nematode history. In real bad situations, we rotate the field to a non-host crop. Where we plan to grow a nematode susceptible variety, we try to plant it following peanuts, which is not a root knot nematode host.”

Scott’s area south of Lubbock does not have as high a thrips problem as other areas. Lubbock north has more wheat production; thrips migrate out of the wheat into small cotton.

“In my area we generally do not put out anything for thrips,” he says. “However, in high input, drip-irrigated fields where we’re shooting for 4 and 5 bales per acre, we might have the seed treated for thrips protection.”

Shoot for earliness

It’s not enough to plant cotton early; you must protect the crop early, according to Mississippi consultant Tucker Miller. “We shoot for earliness, which means controlling tobacco thrips, plant bugs and diseases so the crop can get off to a good start,” he explains.

“The seed in the bag comes treated with an insecticide such as imidacloprid and a fungicide. Our planters are set up to spray so we overtreat Orthene in-furrow. By using an insecticide seed treatment and overtreating acephate in-furrow, we usually do not have to spray for thrips on emerged cotton.

“Additionally, we always want the best fungicides on the seed, especially when planting in cool, wet weather. We need a good pythium/rhizoctonia package; and in some areas, we have thielaviopsis.”

Miller and his growers have been trying Bollgard 3 varieties to find some that will yield consistently with their proven Bollgard II varieties. Several Bollgard 3 varieties that they planted in 2019 show promise.

“They yielded as well as our standard varieties, so we’ll try some of them this year,” he says. “In addition to improved worm control, several of the Bollgard 3 varieties have bacterial blight resistance. We’d love to have a Bollgard 3 with resistance to bacterial blight. We saw the disease last year on some of our susceptible varieties.”

Additionally, where he knows he has a consistent nematode problem, Miller will add a nematicide to the seed treatment. He also tries to plant tolerant varieties in fields that have a history of root knot nematode.  “Root knot is still a problem; we about have the reniform managed by rotating around with corn,” he adds.

In-furrow protection

Georgia consultant Jack Royal’s growers buy high-quality cotton seed with standard treatments from the companies and apply AgLogic 15G aldicarb in-furrow. “Aldicarb seems to help cotton plants jump out of the ground and improve seedling health,” he says. “We used to call it the Temik growth effect: cotton comes out of the ground and takes off.

“Where I had the granular soil insecticide under my cotton in 2019, I never had to spray for thrips. And my cotton comes out of the ground growing. By not having to foliar spray for thrips, we’re leaving more beneficials out there, and we’re not flaring up an early aphid problem.”

In addition to being an insecticide, aldicarb is a nematicide. “The material helps keep the nematode population at a low level,” Royal adds. “To test the results of the in-furrow insecticide, all a grower has to do is turn off his insecticide hoppers for about 12 rows and go back mid-season. You can see a height difference in the crop all the way through mid-bloom. I’d say about 80% of our growers use aldicarb, and I expect even more in 2020.”

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