Texas Cotton: Planting and Soil Temperatures

    Cotton gets off to its best start when planted in a recommended 69°F consistent temperature soil (roughly 64°F bare mini-mum with a warming trend). This winter and spring the soil temperature has followed the trends of the air temperature trends fairly closely as the seed zone has been drier for most fields.

    Higher moisture content in the soil usually slows the soil’s response to air temperatures. This does not bode well for a rapid change or improvement in our cotton planting conditions with recent night temperatures slipping into the 30’s and low 40’s with more rain and less than optimal highs and lows in the upcoming forecast.

    Kerry Siders, EA-IPM Hockley, Cochran, & Lamb, reminded us yesterday through his West Plains IPM Update out of Levelland about the dangers of chilling injury and he provided us agents a link an issue of Cotton Physiology Today from 2007 that went over all of these factors in great detail.

    The biggest question is how do we avoid chilling injury and the season long shortfalls and under performance that will bring (if fields establish), and still get our cotton planted in time? We know we have a deadline. June planted cotton in the High Plains of West Texas never equates to optimal cotton yields.

    Everyone should be reminded that calendar approved planted cotton placed into poor and cool conditions is just as bad if not worse than early June planted cotton. So, we should not get into the field as soon as the fields dry because we are only watching the calendar date.

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    We can never widen a growing season by planting into poor conditions on the front end. Loosing profitability is lost profitability whether it is from planting late or into poor conditions. We must plant into good conditions.

    Dr. Murilo Maeda, Cotton Agronomist Lubbock, shared with AgriLife agents today a few tools that can help with deter-mining planting conditions in various areas. Most of us are familiar with the West Texas Mesonet and its offering of 8” soil temperatures. While very helpful, remember these are not placed in production fields and could be some distance from your local field location.

    Dr. Maeda also shared this one from North Carolina that generates planting forecasts based upon forecasts and some DD60 modeling for your selected area. There are others as well. Several company resources have similar planting forecast aids, and I suggest reviewing them all.

    Most of all, I not only suggest, but heavily recommend that you check for yourself in your field before actually planting. Other tools can help guide your planning and planting a week away, but there is no substitute for knowing what conditions you are actually about to plant in. Taking a soil temperature reading is not rocket science. I have a 6” soil thermometer. I just stick it into the ground until the gage settles, which is usually less than 30 seconds.

    I have 3 to check for inaccuracies and to use as backups. Similar models sell for less than $15, but nicer once could run into several $100 as portions of a hand-held larger weather station. Honestly, my soil thermometer is little more than a glorified food thermometer that can be purchased at any grocery store for about $1-$3. These might be shorter, only 2-4” or so, and 6-8” is ideal for reading longer trends into soil temperatures, but 2-4” puts your right into the seed zone.

    That information could just save an unprofitable situation from hitting you this year. The best time to take your soil temperature is between 7 AM and 10 AM. That early morning period is when the soil temperature should be at its lowest, guaranteeing that the soil will remain consistently at that minimum temperature.

    If the weather situation does not improve soon, we could be looking at bumping the back end of our cotton calendar planting window. If the situation prolongs, potential planting could very well slide out-side that window with late plantings. Today, planting late and the loss of profitability from that lateness is a maybe, but the loss of profitability from planting into poor conditions is assured. At least it is ensured until we reach that minimum of 69˚F or 65˚F with a sharp warming trend afterward.

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