Charles Stickler, Extension agronomist at Uvalde, Texas, recommends farmers delve into the psyche of a cotton plant to learn how to manipulate it to produce more lint.

Lint, he says, is not a high priority for a normal, well-adjusted cotton plant.

“The most important thing to cotton is survival,” Stickler told participants in the recent Texas Gulf Coast Cotton Conference in Corpus Christi.

“If it thinks it's going to die, it reacts (to protect itself),” he said. And in protecting itself the plant shuts down or limits processes that support lint production.

The cotton plant's second most important thing, he said, is seed production. Lint is way down the list of priorities.

“When things go wrong, lint production suffers. We get high mike, low mike and all sorts of other problems. Cotton will produce on its own time schedule.”

Understanding that schedule and why the plant reacts to certain conditions as it does helps farmers increase yield potential, he said.

“We have to think like a cotton plant.”

Knowing the production schedule offers a good first step, he said. “At early bloom, 80 percent of the crop or more will be on the plant. The size of the plant at first bloom affects yield potential.”

He said a plant with eight bolls below the terminal at first bloom is ideal. “If the plant has less, early cutout is likely. If it has more, expect rank growth.”

Stickler said pushing to make a top crop might be a false economy. “The top crop is not where the profit is,” he said. “Judge dollar value by fruiting positions. First position bolls are critical. After fruiting branch number 10, things begin to fall apart. By the time the plant gets eight or nine fruiting branches, 80 percent of the crop is already on.”

He said cotton not made by first bloom couldn't be made up later.

He recommends plant mapping to determine what's going on during the growing season.

“The ability of the mainstem to tolerate stress allows us to predict production potential,” he said.

Factors include:

Height-to-node ratio.

Elongation rate.

First fruiting position (can be affected by planting date, thick stands, and adverse weather).

Percent of fruit set. Influences include boll load that may throttle the plant. Insect damage also is a factor.

Nodes above white flower. Indicates plant vigor, cutout and “growthiness.”

Nodes above cracked boll.

Optimum conditions include:

Eight to nine nodes from the first white flower to the terminal. With seven or less, yield likely will be limited.

Average internode length of 1.1 inches.

From 30 to 32 seed per boll. Stressed plants will have 24 to 26.

Plant population. Crowded cotton will not fruit on the second or third positions.

“Know what the plant tells you,” Stickler said. “Then decide on appropriate management practices.”

rsmith@primediabusiness.com