Cotton specialists agree that hail-proof cotton exists only in the realms of fantasy, but recent advancements in technology indicate that no-till cotton, planted in stubble, improves survival rate during harsh spring weather.

J.C. Banks, Oklahoma Extension cotton specialist, has been working with no-till cotton since 1990 but says cotton farmers are not adapting to the idea of no-till cotton easily. “No-till was considered trash farming at one time and if you left weeds in the field you just weren't a good farmer.”

Three components now make no-till more acceptable, says Banks:

  • Cotton is sensitive to wind and soil damage.
  • Improved planters allow for better stands.
  • Herbicide tolerant cotton improves weed control options.

There is no such thing as hail proof cotton, says Banks, but planting in stubble offers limited protection from the elements.

Areas that have higher winds and frequent storms, like Oklahoma and West Texas, are ideal candidates for no-till. This spring provided a good opportunity for comparison.

Oklahoma had a bout of rain, wind, and hail storms in June. The cotton in a no-till field was practically unscathed while many conventionally tilled fields were heavily damaged.

Guards young plants

The stubble in the no-till fields protected the young cotton, says Banks. Seedling disease pressure also was less in no-till cotton.

“Farmers who planted in residue reported that cotton came up better and didn't pick up seedling disease,” says Banks.

Improved planters also make no-till cotton a better option.

Planters have increased in quality and newer ones offer better seed-to-soil contact. Older planters can be equipped, inexpensively, to cut through crop residue, says Banks.

The combination of higher quality planters and herbicide tolerant cotton allows no-till fields to produce higher yields. Previously there was no efficient way to control weeds in no-till cotton.

“Roundup Ready cotton allows farmers to control weeds without plowing,” says Banks.

No-till methods help maintain more residue, hold more water, and produce a higher quality crop.

“Cotton varieties take advantage of this less stressful, no-till environment,” he says. “The more we know about no-till, the more we realize it's the way to grow cotton.”