Porter & Virk: Be Prepared for Planting Cotton by Ensuring Your Planter is Ready

By: Wesley Porter and Simer Virk, UGA Extension Specialists

 As the warm spring continues to increase soil temperatures, corn planters will start rolling across the fields. While we still have a few more weeks until cotton planting begins across the state, this is a perfect time for growers to start checking their planters and performing any required maintenance to ensure they are ready for planting cotton. While some of the planters may have already been used to plant corn, it’s important to note some significant changes in planter settings are required to ensure accurate metering and seed placement for cotton. Planter malfunctions in the field or mistakes at planting are common and can become costly, especially with the high seed prices. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the planters are dialed in for peak performance in the field. A planter checklist is available here Planter Checklist (UGA) for growers to utilize and go thoroughly over different planter components to check if any parts need replacement or adjustment to get it field ready. Once out in the field, it is important that the operator gets out of the tractor during first few passes and carefully check seed depth and spacing across all rows behind the planter. This is also the best time to check if the planter is setup and functioning properly for the given field conditions such as soil moisture, residue, etc. Here are a few other key points to consider related to planter setup and performing in-field checks when planting cotton:

  1. Seed depth C The recommended seed depth for planting cotton is 0.5 to 1.0 inches and if the same planter has been used for planting corn, it is most likely set closer to 1.5 to 2.0 inches deep. Verify seed depth before planting both on a hard surface and in the field. Mechanical seed depth settings (T-bar handle adjustments) can vary among the row-units on the same planter so take the time to check planted seed depth for each row-unit and make necessary adjustments accordingly. This is very important especially when planting cotton at shallower depths (≤0.5 inch) as even a small deviation from target depth setting on some row-units can result in seeds being placed on top of the ground instead of in the soil and with proper seed-to-soil contact.
  2. Downforce C Proper planter downforce is important to achieve target seeding depth so make sure the downforce system (whether utilizing mechanical, pneumatic, or an active hydraulic system) is set to apply adequate downforce on each row-unit. For planting cotton, the required downforce could range anywhere from none (just the weight of the row-unit itself) up to 200 lbf depending on the soil type, moisture and field conditions at planting. Lighter sandy soils and conventional tillage systems will require considerably less downforce than heavy loamy soils and conservation systems (strip-till or no-till). Remember it is common to have variable conditions within the same field, so make sure to adjust settings accordingly as field conditions change within the same field or when moving from one field to another .
  3. Seeding Rate C The recommended seeding rate for cotton is at least 2 seeds per row-foot to attain a plant population of 1.5 to 1.75 plants per row-foot (again here the seed plate and plant population for corn are drastically different so adjust the population accordingly for cotton). For growers planting closer or less than 2 seeds per row-foot, it is critical to avoid any seed metering and placement issues as it may result in inadequate stand establishment with a potential for yield loss. For growers who are not utilizing a seed monitor during planting, it is highly recommended to check all seed meters on a test stand before planting to verify meter performance, especially singulation. Growers should check the availability of seed meter test stand with their nearest dealership as most equipment dealers have these available today and offer seed meter testing as a service. Seed meter testing is important as any unnecessary skips or multiples during planting will result in poor or uneven stand establishment which can further impact yield if the stand is reduced significantly. Cotton seed being smaller than corn and peanut seed is also very sensitive to vacuum pressure, so make sure to adjust the vacuum appropriately to avoid skips and multiples.
  4. Seed Placement and Seed-to-Soil Contact C Proper setup and functioning of row-cleaners (when planting in conservation systems), double-disc openers, gauge-wheels, and closing wheels for prevalent field conditions is critical for attaining adequate seed placement and proper seed-to-soil contact. Make sure that the double-disc openers are creating a true V-shape furrow, gauge-wheels are running tightly (but not rubbing excessively) against the opening-discs, and closing wheels are aligned perfectly behind the planter and set to apply adequate pressure to properly close the furrow. Check for any signs of improper furrow formation when doing field checks behind the planter and make necessary adjustments. It is important to have both good seed placement and seed-to-soil contact for timely and uniform emergence.
  5. Planting Technology C Several planting technologies are available today on modern cotton planters to improve seeding performance. Ensure to perform a thorough and timely inspection (at least a week or more) before planting to check status and functioning of all technology components including GPS, seed monitor, wiring harnesses, seed tube sensors, rate control module, electric seed meters, and active downforce system (if available) as well as for any subscription or latest firmware updates for the GPS and the in-cab display. Back up your planting data from the previous year before you begin planting this year and make sure the seeding prescriptions are ready to go if utilizing any variable-rate seeding in your operation this year. Issues with planting technology in the middle of the planting season can cost significant time and money so make sure to address any issues before heading out to the field.
  6. Variability During Planting C As mentioned above both variable field and environmental conditions are unavoidable during planting, thus, it is critical that growers evaluate their planting conditions day to day, field to field, and especially if there are significant weather events (such as temperature changes or rainfall) during the planting window. These are common and will require adjustment to planter settings based on the existing in-field conditions, with special consideration to variability in soil texture, moisture, and/or crop residue. Most growers usually plant two to three varieties on their farm so any change in cotton varieties, specifically in seed size, would also require adjustments to seed meter settings and vacuum to ensure good seed singulation with minimal skips or doubles.

Remember you only get one chance to place the seed and close that furrow properly so consistent and regular checks during planting are important to ensure that the planter is operating at peak performance in each field and throughout the whole planting window.

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