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Proper spacing of cotton plants can help maximize yield potential. Planting cotton seed at too high of a population can cause overcrowding of plants and may unnecessarily increase seed cost. A final stand of 2.5 plants per row foot will typically help maximize yield potential.
High plant populations should be avoided unless very aggressive management practices are to be used in combination with proper variety selection. When cotton plant populations are too high, the following can occur:
Plant populations that are too low can also reduce yield potential. Reduced cotton stands can:
Several local conditions can influence the need to adjust cotton planting populations depending on management system/style, variety characteristics, projected weather patterns, and planting date. Some of these specific conditions include:
Early planting. A challenge of early planting is often on the ability to establish and maintain an adequate stand in the face of seedling disease, cold weather, and generally difficult establishment conditions. In the case of early planting into adverse conditions, populations should be increased to compensate for potential losses.
Late planting and/or dryland production. This scenario includes any case where earliness is at a premium. Cotton planted behind wheat or in the last quarter of the planting cycle falls generally into this category. In cases where earliness is required, planting higher populations, in combination with aggressive in-crop management can help make the crop earlier while maintaining adequate yield potential. Having more plants in the field allows a relatively high level of yield accumulation in shorter periods of time as compared to less dense stands. This ultimately allows for an earlier crop to be harvested.
Planting on “growthy65533;? soil types. Highly productive soils that have demonstrated the need for aggressive growth control in the past can often benefit from decreasing the planting populations versus the previous experience. Fewer plants generate less competition for resources and thereby usually require less growth control.
High input, high yield environments. These production environments require the most aggressive decision making, management inputs, and carry somewhat higher risk. In this scenario, we generally plant populations that are ablove average for a region. These fields are typically irrigated and are very aggressively managed with PGRs, fertility, and irrigation applications. These factors influence the likely outcome of a crop in any field, but in this environment, having relatively high numbers of surviving plants establishes the yield potential early in the season. It also carries somewhat more risk but can be managed if those risks are acknowledged up front starting with planting rates and continuing with in-season management decisions.
Setting a target final stand can be accomplished by figuring a targeted seed per foot or plants per acre. Seeding rates can be adjusted by slightly lowering them as the weather conditions and forecast move toward the ideal, which can be achieved under irrigation and high temperatures.
Cotton is typically raised in 38- or 40-inch raised beds in many southern regions; however, some growers plant in narrower 30-inch, 2:1 skip rows. A narrow row planting system allows the use of the same 30-inch planter for cotton, corn, soybean, and other row crops.
Some row spacing research indicates that narrowing row width to 30-inches can increase yield potential. Closer row spacing can help the crop canopy close early in the season. Earlier canopy closure in 30-inch rows may help the cotton crop mature a few days earlier than cotton grown in 38-inch rows. Narrow row spacing can also be more efficient in the use of solar radiation for the photosynthesis process. Cotton grown in narrow rows may require more intensive management as the plants can demand increased nutrients and may produce more vegetative growth, potentially requiring additional plant growth regulator applications.
All decisions going into planning any cotton production system are highly variable and production practice-specific including the variety planted, population, and in-season management of inputs.
Overall, similar yields can be expected from either 38-inch solid rows or 30-inch 2:1 skip rows, as long as management decisions are made to optimize conditions for that row configuration: uniform seed spacing/placement, adequate bed preparation, and clear middles to allow irrigation and drainage. When selecting cotton varieties for skip row configurations, consider using indeterminate cotton products that produce more vegetative growth and spread and fill in the “skip65533;? area.
Planting cotton in a skip row configuration tends to result in plants with more fruiting positions per node and higher fruit retention. This is primarily a result of increased light penetration in the canopy.