Whitaker: Variety Selection in Georgia, Why Our Best Choices are Sometimes a Compromise…

Note – This is a message from UGA Extension Cotton agronomist Dr. Jared Whitaker.  For more information on the UGA Cotton Team, visit http://www.ugacotton.com.

Weather is a big factor that all cotton producers have to consider during planting season.  In Georgia, rainfall is almost always limited at some point and our producers are some of the most experienced in “making it work”.

This year was no exception as conditions deteriorated quickly, where rainfall became increasingly rare anywhere across the state between May 14th and June 3rd.  On top of the dry weather, air temperatures soared between May 26th and June 3rd.  This left conditions exceedingly poor for most of the state and producers who were finishing planting during this time faced an extremely difficult task.

Ultimately, many (if not most) fields which were planted during the window between May 26th and June 3rd ended up having to be replanted.

Replanting occurs on a small percentage of our crop each year, but this situation was unique as stands were inadequate in fields where producers did everything right and used all the tricks and tools we have to help emergence during less than optimum conditions.

Most of the time when a cotton field has to be replanted there is some issue that we can point to which helps explain what happened and give hints to what could be done differently next time.

This time I visited growers across the state with stand issues that occurred during this window and time after time there was not obvious issue that would explain why we failed at getting a stand.  The only common thing was that germination seemed to slow down and seedlings seemed to “run out of gas”, which was backwards to the common idea that emergence is faster as soil temperatures rise.  We did measure soil temperatures in a lot of fields during this window and documented temperatures at 1” below the surface well over 100° F in wet soil and over 120° F in drier soil.  We’ve seen soil temperatures this high many times before, but rarely see it last over a week.

Looking back, there was quite a bit of literature that provided evidence to indicate that cotton emergence slows and is ultimately limited when soil temperatures rise above 95° F.  Specifically, that research has shown that temperatures even slightly over 95° F can significantly limit the emergence process.  There are several physiological processes that are negatively affected when temperatures rise above 100° F, yet the work ultimately suggests that the seedling emergence process is not efficient and the process slows, in some cases to the point where seedlings don’t make it to the soil surface prior to running out of energy (ending in seedling death).

Some of this temperature related cotton seedling work has indicated that seedling vigor, or inherent differences in vigor, can significantly impact how much these adverse conditions play a role in emergence.  In Georgia, most of our best variety choices are considered to be extremely small seeded varieties.  We know that seed size is very closely correlated to seedling vigor, as seed size decreases, vigor decreases (and vice versa).   This is not something that is seed company or brand specific, but rather simply a function of energy storage.  So, it should not be surprising that when a larger seeded variety is planted next to a smaller seeded variety, when conditions are poor, one could see differences in overall emergence.

In hindsight, we had some extremely poor weather conditions for almost half of our planting window and almost impossible conditions during a particular week.  Knowing what we know now, there were obvious situations where a bag of seed with better vigor could have made the difference in getting a stand.  However, making variety decisions only based on vigor in Georgia could leave yield potential on the table.

With weather predictions becoming increasingly better, we may be able to know when this will happen again.  However, we still need to have better information on how seed from a particular bag will respond.  Currently, we only know that seed we buy has adequate vigor to emerge in a standard germination test, which is conducted with temperatures up to only 86° F.  We can also make inferences based on seed size and in some cases have the results of a cool germination test.

As much as producers pay for cotton seed, I think it’s fair to say that we need better information on what happens when soil temperatures rise to risky levels.  There are other germination tests out there, specifically an accelerated aging test, which may provide key information needed to help make the decision on how to choose a variety when seedling vigor becomes increasingly important.  More times than not, we plant cotton in soil temperatures that are well above 86° F and testing information that reflects that could make all the difference in whether or not we get an adequate stand of cotton in early enough to maximize yields.

This article is certainly not meant to challenge current germination testing procedures or to say that growers should make rash decisions based on recent experiences, but rather to encourage our industry to strive to provide Georgia producers with variety decisions which don’t make us settle on sometimes “lower than needed” vigor.  In the meantime, we need to work to ensure that we have the best information possible to make good decisions when these scenarios occur again in the future.

After all that, let’s hope for a successful 2019 cotton crop.  Even though much of the crop suffered early on, the weather has made a turn for the better in most places and with a favorable August we could make an extremely good if not record crop.

For any question or issue with your cotton crop, be sure to reach out to your local UGA County Extension agent.













NCC: Disaster Relief Package Is Vital

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The National Cotton Council greatly appreciates Congress and the Administration for their support and approval of long-awaited and much needed disaster and recovery assistance for those farmers who were devastated by Hurricanes Florence, Michael and other natural disasters in 2018 and early 2019.

The supplemental disaster assistance package passed by the House, and approved by the Senate on May 23, includes more than $3.0 billion in assistance for lost crops, most of which will be administered through the Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program (WHIP) that was used in response to 2017 hurricane losses. However, the bill includes some important enhancements to WHIP and will include assistance for prevented planted acres. The President is expected to sign the bill in the coming days and USDA can begin the implementation and sign-up process.

An initial summary of the bill’s agriculture provisions is on the NCC’s website at http://www.cotton.org/issues/2019/supdis.cfm.

NCC Chairman Mike Tate, a north Alabama cotton producer, said this relief will be a big help to those farmers who are trying to restore their operations. That includes cotton producers in several southeastern states who had their ready-to-be harvested cotton hammered by hurricanes in 2018.

“Now, we urge USDA to get this assistance to the affected farmers as soon as possible,” Tate stated. “The livelihoods of farm families and the economic health of rural communities are at stake.”

For their continuous negotiations to reach agreement among Congress and the President, Tate commended Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL), and Senators David Perdue (R-GA), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Doug Jones (D-AL), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Richard Burr (R-NC), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), and Tim Scott (R-SC), along with John Hoeven (R-ND), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Agriculture Subcommittee. Tate also thanked Sanford Bishop (D-GA), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee’s Agriculture Subcommittee, and Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA), along with Reps. Rick Allen (R-GA), Martha Roby (R-AL), Neal Dunn (R-FL), David Rouzer (R-NC), James Clyburn (D-SC), and Tom Rice (R-SC) for their initiative and leadership in making passage of this legislation a priority.

Early in 2019, the NCC joined a coalition of other agricultural groups, including numerous state and regional cotton organizations, to urge a unified effort by Congress to approve disaster relief legislation. That coalition continued its persistent effort which was supported by local farm credit associations, community banks, and other farm and commodity organizations.

Cotton Commission Welcomes Disaster Vote; Trade Announcement

The Georgia Cotton Commission would like to thank their partners in congress for their recent passage of disaster assistance (HR 2157) and President Trump for his announcement of a revamped trade assistance package for farmers affected by adverse market conditions caused by ongoing trade negotiations between the United States and various foreign nations.  A big thank you goes out to the members of Georgia’s congressional delegation for keeping the disaster issue at the forefront of political discussions despite the length of time it took for their colleagues to act on it.

“These funds do not just help farmers devastated by Hurricane Michael, but also our rural communities that depend on agriculture for their economic sustainability,” said Bart Davis, a cotton farmer from Colquitt County. “Furthermore, this legislation goes to farmers and rural communities in states all over the country affected by recent natural disasters,” he added.

While disaster legislation still requires presidential signature, the Commission is hopeful that President Trump will sign this act and hope USDA will enact these programs quickly so that struggling producers can pay off bridge loans and other financing that may be needed to close out the 2018 crop year.  Details have not been fully released on either of these programs