In what should been one of the busiest planting times of the year, cotton seed remained in the sack in many parts of the lower Southeast as unseasonably hot, dry weather lingered over the region during the first half of May.

Nearing the mid-May mark, University of Georgia Extension Cotton Specialist Guy Collins said his growers were about 20 percent planted, compared to a five-year average of 25 percent.

“We’re in a holding pattern for planting cotton now, especially our dryland producers. I don’t think we can say yet that this crop is late, but we can’t afford another two weeks of hot, dry conditions. We’re just a little bit behind right now, and we’re certainly not in a panic situation,” says Collins.

Some see June 1 as the latest a grower can plant cotton and expect good results, but Collins sees some flexibility to that rule.

“With some of the earlier varieties, I don’t think June 15 would be out of the question as a planting date,” he says.

Collins estimates that anywhere from 45 to 50 percent of Georgia’s cotton is irrigated.

The most challenging planting decisions during the early part of the planting window are often associated with dryland acreage, says Collins. When warm temperatures prevail, growers usually begin planting dryland acreage as soon as sufficient soil moisture is available.

Since this year has been relatively dry so far, several growers have been faced with decisions of whether to “dust in” seed in anticipation of rain if soils are extremely dry, plant deeper to capture some sub-surface moisture, or to delay planting until it rains.

Of course, says Collins, there is a risk that it will continue to remain relatively dry which could force growers to plant in sub-optimal conditions.

According to University of Georgia recommendations, deeper planted cotton should be planted at depths between 0.75 and 1.25 inches but not greater than 1.25 inches. Planting on the shallower end of this spectrum is advised when encountering unfavorable soil or environmental conditions, or if surface crusting is likely.

Could lead to problems

Deep planting in unfavorable soil temperatures, or in soils that tend to crust, could lead to germination and emergence problems.

Planting at depths closer to 1.25 inches is only appropriate when planting in good soil moisture, warm soil temperatures, and in well-drained soils without the potential for crusting.

The success of deep planting is more probable if soil moisture at these depths is sufficient and forecasted conditions continue to remain favorable until seedlings emerge.

Statewide topsoil moistures in Georgia at about the middle of May were rated at 17 percent very short, 38 percent short, 41 percent adequate and only 4 percent surplus.

Subsoil moisture for the state was 11 percent very short, 40 percent short, 46 percent adequate and 3 percent surplus.

In Alabama topsoil moistures at mid-May were 4 percent very short, 19 percent short, 54 percent adequate and 18 percent surplus, with the surplus measurements mostly in the northern half of the state.

Twenty-eight percent of Alabama’s cotton crop had been planted compared to a five-year average of 44 percent.

In mid-May in the Southeast region, from Virginia southward through Florida and southwestward through Mississippi, only light precipitation was observed, if any. As a result, the U.S. Drought Monitor classifications worsened, particularly along and near the Gulf Coast, where surface moisture declined markedly.

The extreme drought classification was introduced into parts of southeastern Georgia and extended slightly southward along the southeastern coast of Florida.

Severe drought was expanded to include southeastern Alabama, the western Florida Panhandle, most of the southern half of Georgia and coastal east-central Florida.

In addition, abnormally dry conditions expanded northwestward in northeast Georgia and western South Carolina.

For the last three months, rainfall was 8 to more than 12 inches below normal across southern sections of Mississippi and Alabama, and through the western Florida Panhandle.

Unfortunately, says Georgia State Climatologist David Emory Stooksbury, these conditions could become more severe.

phollis@farmpress.com