Recent updates reported May 2nd from the Arkansas Agricultural Statistics Service estimate 6% of the cotton crop to be planted. This is well behind last year’s 26% and the five-year average of 25%. The high spots are beginning to dry and reports indicate that some producers may resume planting by May 6th in the southern portions of the state.
A general rule of thumb for Arkansas suggests that a two percent loss in yield potential may be experienced for every day cotton is planted after May 20th. Terry Griffin, agricultural economist for the Division of Agriculture, compiled yield data by week of planting from the last 30 years of data collected in the University of Arkansas Cotton Verification Program fields (chart below).
The results are reported as percent of optimum cotton lint yields for each week of planting during the season. As you can see, especially North of Interstate 40, yields may be reduced up to 30% if cotton is planted the last week of May. Keep in mind this data is based on yield averages over numerous years, varieties and environmental conditions. The overall deciding factor in any year is the environmental conditions during peak bloom as well as temperatures in September.
Many have questioned when is the last possible planting date for cotton. In regard to yield, we know that 30% of our yield potential is lost when cotton is planted the last week of May into June. However, the level of the current cotton price - $1.20/lb - will determine overall profitability of late planted cotton. It is much easier to make money with cotton prices at $1.20 vs. $0.52/lb. No producer wants to plant cotton in June, but for the last three years our June-planted cotton at Marianna has yielded over 800lbs/A.
Generally, due to the high possibility of significant yield reductions, we do not recommend planting cotton past May 29th for Northeast Arkansas, June 1st for Central Arkansas and June 3rd for Southeast Arkansas. However, late planted cotton can be profitable if the price is right. Producers in Arkansas should consider only planting early maturing varieties, if possible, past May 15.