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How Late Should We Plant Cotton?
Author: Tom Barber, Extension Weed Scientist

Recent updates reported May 6th  from the Arkansas Agricultural Statistics Service estimate 5% of the cotton crop to be planted. This is well behind last year’s 73% planted and the five-year average of 35%. There are some areas of the state that are dry enough to plant, mostly in the central part of the state, but scattered.  Several questions have come in regarding the planting cutoff dates and varieties to consider once a particular date is reached.   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.   This will obviously vary from north to south Arkansas and is only used as a general rule of thumb.  Several years ago we summarized the data from planting dates in the Cotton Research and Verification Progrm and separated the dates for North and South of Interstate 40.  The chart below descripes percent yield by planting week and represents an average from the last 30 years of data collected in the University of Arkansas Cotton Verification Program fields. planting dates and yield

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.  Most of us remember the 2011 season.  It started off much like this one in regards to the percentage of the cotton crop that was planted late.  That year the bulk of our crop was planted past May 20th and the yield results statewide were 10-15% lower than average. The main factor affecting the yields in 2011, was the lower than average temperatures in September.  Late planted cotton can still produce high yields as long as September temperatures provide enough heat units to mature fruit in upper portion of the plant.

How late is too late?  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.

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