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Interest in wide-row cotton planting piqued in North Carolina after farmers heard about higher cotton yields at lower costs with the ultra-wide-row system.

John Hart, Associate Editor

August 30, 2022

3 Min Read
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Speaking at the CHROME Ag Expo at the Peanut Belt Research Station in Lewiston-Woodville, N.C., North Carolina State University Cotton Specialist Guy Collins discussed the option of North Carolina farmers planting ultra-wide-row cotton.John Hart

North Carolina farmers who are considering turning to ultra-wide row cotton to save on seeding costs should think again. It turns out the system really won’t work for farmers if they want to maximize returns. However, the 2-and-1 or 4-and-1 skip-row patterns may have some utility.

That’s the takeaway of research conducted in 2021 by North Carolina State University Extension Specialist Guy Collins and his team comparing the ultra-wide-row cotton to a 4-and-1or a 2-and-1 skip-row planting system and conventional 36-inch row planting.

Collins notes that interest in wide-row planting was piqued in North Carolina due to anecdotal evidence that farmers in other cotton growing states were achieving higher yields at lower costs with the ultra-wide-row system. Collins said he wanted to conduct research to see for himself if the system would work in North Carolina and not result in lower return due to lower yields despite savings in seed and harvest costs.

Speaking at the CHROME Ag Expo at the Peanut Belt Research Station in Lewiston-Woodville Aug. 16, Collins said results from the North Carolina State study last year clearly show yields do decline in a ultra-wide-row system. However, for some farmers the 2-and-1 or 4-and-1 skip-row system may be competitive in terms of economics.

Essentially, ultra-wide row cotton is cotton that is planted on every other row instead of continuously. North Carolina cotton farmers typically plant cotton in 36-inch row or 38-inch rows. The 4 and 1 skip-row system is cotton planted on 36-inch rows but every fifth row is left not planted. The 2 and 1 skip-row system is cotton planted on 36-inch rows with every third row not planted.

Skip row cotton does offer lower seed costs than traditional solid-planted cotton. Collins said the North Carolina State research shows skip-row cotton offers a savings on seed costs of 20 to 33 percent, for the 4-and-1 and 2-and-1 skip-row systems respectively, compared to continuous planting. The ultra-wide-row system offers a savings of 50 percent.

Interestingly, skip row cotton does offer savings when it comes to harvest. Collins said he polled five growers, who are good record keepers, and found the average cost to harvest cotton with a round baler picker and a solid row system is roughly $70 per acre in solid planted crops. Collins then compared these results to the other systems.

“With a 4-and-1 system, we can achieve about 92% of the yield with 78% of the seed and harvest costs. With 2-and-1, we’re looking a 84% of our normal yield accompanied by 60% of seed and harvest costs. In the ultrawide system, we were not able to achieve higher yields by any stretch, getting about 75% of solid planted yield with 57% of the production cost associated with seed and harvest,” Collins said.

“Despite significant costs savings associated with the ultra-wide-row system, the value of harvested yield adjusted for those costs savings remains less than that of solid planted, and in most cases, the 4-and-1 and 2-and-1 skip-row systems,” he said.

Essentially, Collins said the 4-in-1 system and 2-in-1 system may way work as well as solid planting in many cases, economically speaking, for some cotton farmers, but the skip-row system really isn’t the way to go, at least based on the data available now.

“These findings were based on data from one of our highest-yielding years on record (2021). We’ll see what this year’s data shows us once we’re able to harvest,” Collins said

About the Author(s)

John Hart

Associate Editor, Southeast Farm Press

John Hart is associate editor of Southeast Farm Press, responsible for coverage in the Carolinas and Virginia. He is based in Raleigh, N.C.

Prior to joining Southeast Farm Press, John was director of news services for the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington, D.C. He also has experience as an energy journalist. For nine years, John was the owner, editor and publisher of The Rice World, a monthly publication serving the U.S. rice industry.  John also worked in public relations for the USA Rice Council in Houston, Texas and the Cotton Board in Memphis, Tenn. He also has experience as a farm and general assignments reporter for the Monroe, La. News-Star.

John is a native of Lake Charles, La. and is a  graduate of the LSU School of Journalism in Baton Rouge.  At LSU, he served on the staff of The Daily Reveille.

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