This time of year I’m often asked to estimate cotton yields for producers for reasons of curiosity, a bankers request for further funding, or just to see how wrong the silly agent is. So I count bolls, establish a plant population and boll size for number of bolls to make a pound of lint, and crunch the numbers.

Then I apply the art of realism into the final number. An example: a field has a plant population of 43,500 plants per acre; after counting a minimum of 50 plants I establish that there is an average of 8.2 bolls per plant; and I estimate that this decent irrigated cotton field has a medium to large bolls size of 320 bolls to make a pound of lint; so (43500 X 8.2) /320 = 1115 pounds of cotton lint yield. I look at the field, consider the producers ability to take this crop to the gin and say “yes this is 2.2-bale cotton.”

That is a realistic scenario. How can we use this to better our management?

Okay, let’s go through another scenario. We will plant to a stand 3 plants per foot or 39,208 plants per acre on every acre, consistently. We water, fertilize, control weeds, manage insects, utilize PGRs, etc., consistently and timely across the whole field.

We use a variety which will set fruit at node seven and quit at node 14. It will have 2 bolls on node 7, 3 bolls on nodes 8 and 9, 2 bolls on nodes 10 through 12, and finally 1 boll on nodes 13 and 14. This is a total of 16 bolls. Now that seems like a lot, but it is very possible if managed properly and consistently.

These bolls are also of a good size, taking 300 bolls to make a pound of lint. Let’s calculate the yield: (39,208 X 16) / 300 = 2091 pounds of lint per acre. Wow. That is plus 4 bale cotton. Ladies and gentlemen we are producing that right now. Sure it is on mostly drip, but it is also being done on pivot irrigation. Okay do not think for a moment that I am saying that you need to be producing 4- to 5-bale cotton. In fact, some who may be doing this have reached a point of diminishing returns when their primary goal is just high yield.

My point is that excellent, profitable yields are achieved by consistency—consistent stand, consistent and necessary inputs, and finally achieving a consistent fruit load. What kills my calculations when a producer asks me to calculate yield for them are the inconsistent stand and inconsistent boll load. If you want to better your profit margin through production, be consistent, timely, and precise.