Alabama Cotton: 7 Strategies For Balancing Yield And Profit Potential In Year Of Uncertainty

Photo: North Carolina State University

Every year is different. However, 2020 will be one to remember with the historic events that are occurring globally and in the U.S. To survive, we must make decisions that will bring the best opportunities for profitability.

Low commodity prices have brought tough times. As of March 17, 2020, cotton is trading below 60 cents per pound. Futures prices have fallen to 60 cents or less only during five periods in the past 11 years.

Cotton will go back up, but the question is WHEN? On March 2, 2009, cotton was trading at 41 cents, but by November 9 that year it had rebounded to 67 cents and on March 1, 2010, it reached 82 cents. That is no indicator of what 2020 will bring, but for those who choose to plant cotton this year, the fact remains that cotton is cheap and we must make strong yields to even have a chance for a profit.

Even if the price improves to 70 cents, we must make good yields.

Yield And Profitability: Seven Strategies

So what strategy will you use to improve your opportunity at yields and profitability? Yield is the question, but profitability is the answer. The following is my list to improve the chances of profitability.

#1. Closely select varieties.

Chose cotton varieties that consistently show good to excellent yields. No variety will win every test. Look for varieties that yield in the upper third of university variety trials.

#2. Test soils.

Determine critical levels and don’t over-fertilize. I am all about having the required nutrients to produce a profitable crop. I am not in favor of going out of business and leaving my money in the soil for someone else to withdraw.

AgFax Weed Solutions


Three quick points:

  • Cotton doesn’t require much P.
  • Cotton levels of K are important, but check those levels.
  • As a general rule, 90 pounds of N is adequate.

Auburn has recently obtained sufficient data to sustain our soil test recommendations. Fertilize all the K at planting unless you have deep, sandy soils. Remember, the efficiency of the cotton plant to withdraw K from the soil declines dramatically after 90 days (peak bloom).

Complete N applications between the 5th and 10th true leaf (this is a 14 day window).

#3. Pay attention to planter settings.

Update and calibrate planters for precise, accurate seeding. Seeding rates of 2.0 to 2.5 seed per foot are an effective range for maximum yields. University testing consistently confirms this.

Also, getting a uniform stand is critical, something often easier said than done. Stand establishment is critical. Make sure conditions at planting are conducive for quick emergence.

#4. Plant early.

This has been a mild winter, which means whiteflies could be a serious late-season pest. Expensive or even marginally effective whitefly treatments in late-planted cotton are cost-prohibitive with cheap cotton prices.

#5. Manage for earliness.

Plan to make an efficient, quick crop through sound management practices that involve proper planting, fertility, weed control, insect control, and PGRs. Do everything for high retention of 1st and 2nd positions through 15 nodes of growth.

Apply harvest aids on time and pick in a timely fashion to maximize yield, fiber quality, and possible premiums.

#6. Avoid poorly productive fields.

Don’t plant cotton on soils that have a history of only producing a bale of cotton per acre.

#7. Evaluate every input.

Repeatedly ask, “Does this pay? Will this bring a positive return?”

I am certain that if this can be your game plan for 2020 and the weather is at least somewhat favorable, the outcome will be rewarding. If the world situation stabilizes and markets rebound, we could see 70 cents or better in the fall.  One can only hope.

With a year like this, if you can’t manage to be early and timely in your production practices, then my suggestion is to not plant it. Plant less acres, plant something else, even if it is just a summer cover crop.

I was recently asked, “What’s going on in the farming world?” My answer was that farmers were getting ready to plant seeds of hope. In a world of uncertainty, the normal thing that farmers do is plant seeds of hope.

Please call on me at (334) 723- 6299 if I can be of assistance to you in 2020.




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