Top 10 Tips for Cotton Yields and Fiber Quality

cotton harvest
Timely defoliation is an important harvest best management practice to balance the goals of cotton yield and quality.

Best management practices (BMPs) go a long way to help farmers secure the best yields and return on investment when growing cotton. While there are many factors involved in achieving top yields, the following top 10 cotton tips can help add extra bale weight and fiber quality to help boost profits and end-of-season outcomes:

  1. Variety selection – Base your variety selection on proven ability for fiber quality and yield potential. Manage risk and yield potential by selecting three or more cotton varieties. Consult your local seed dealer and review performance ratings of various varieties from seed companies and university Extension trials. Match that information with your individual farming goals and field conditions.

  2. Seed genetics  – Choose cotton seed genetics wisely. Plant newer varieties, plus your tried-and-true varieties. Diverse cotton varieties with different traits, maturities, disease and insect susceptibility, and herbicide tolerance for control of tough-to-manage weeds will help spread risk and enhance your chances for achieving high yields.

  3. Seed treatments – Protect your seed investment, establish a good stand and enhance yields with a professionally applied seed treatment containing fungicide, insecticide and nematicide.

  4. Fertility and soil testing – Test the fertility levels in the soils of individual fields at least every other year. Use recommended soil sampling techniques from your Extension experts to establish your soil pH and residual nutrient levels. Fertilize according to the potential cotton yields you want to achieve. Fertilizer, especially nitrogen, is a costly input, and guessing at application rates can lead to wide range of problems such as diseases and insects. Excess nitrogen can also delay maturity and result in poor quality fiber such as low micronaire in cooler parts of the Cotton Belt.

  5. Planting and seeding – Start with a weed-free seedbed using pre-emergence and residual herbicides. Sufficient soil moisture and soil temperatures of 65°F or higher are ideal environmental conditions for planting. Plant cotton seed 1 to 1.5 inches deep.

  6. Early pest management – Plant under optimum weather conditions to help limit the risk of disease infections. If you feel it’s necessary to plant in soil cooler than 65°F and/or rain or cool air temperatures are in the five-day weather forecast, consider an in-furrow fungicide treatment that protects against Rhizoctononia solani and Pythium spp, or make sure to use a premium seed treatment package. Control emerging, tough-to-manage and resistant weeds before they reach 4 inches tall. Rotate herbicides, fungicides and insecticides with different modes of action from different classes of chemistry to fight resistance.

  7. Irrigation – Irrigate before plant stress occurs, making sure moisture is near field capacity during first bloom. Plants need adequate moisture, beginning at the first square, to meet yield goals, which will vary by individual fields and cotton-growing regions. Avoid excess irrigation that can cause rank growth and delay maturity. Refer to your local Extension guidelines to help schedule irrigation at the proper timing of cotton development.

  8. Scouting – Scout throughout the season for weed, disease and insect pests to guide treatment decisions and protect cotton crop yield and quality. Zero tolerance is the standard to manage weeds before they go to seed. Check with your Extension recommendations for economic thresholds and scouting techniques for cotton insects and diseases.

  9. Plant growth regulation – Monitor your cotton crop for growth, square size and fruit retention to help enhance cotton yield and fiber quality. Many factors, such as varieties planted, moisture, plant stress, soil type and nutrition, affect growth rates and the rate and application timing of plant growth regulators. Check industry Extension guidelines for using plant growth regulators.

  10. Harvest management – Defoliate as early as possible to balance the goals of cotton yield and quality. Look at the upper cotton bolls to check seed maturity. Defoliate when you see black seed coats, and harvest when the cotton crop is defoliated and most bolls open. If weather or time management delays picking, you will likely see a drop in grade and yield.




Bayer Solutions for Cotton

Bayer offers a broad portfolio of season-long products to help cotton growers achieve the highest possible yield and fiber quality. Read the entire label for best results and to confirm the product is effective on the pest you need to control. Choose the best products to control your specific pests and achieve the best yield outcome. Not every product is suitable for every situation, nor registered in every state, and proper application techniques will enhance results.

Integrated Weed Management

Bayer has a broad portfolio to combat tough-to-control and resistant weeds. A well-thought-out herbicide program, using multiple sites of action and nonchemical practices, should be implemented. Before applying any herbicide, please read the entire label for the best possible results and to confirm that the product is effective on the weeds you wish to control best results.

Bayer offers cotton growers Liberty® (10), the preeminent weed-management system with a unique chemistry and novel mode of action to offer superior control of a broad spectrum of resistant and tough-to-control weeds in LibertyLink® cotton. It is THE non-selective post-emergence herbicide that still effectively handles grasses and broadleaf weeds including glyphosate resistant Palmer amaranthgiant ragweed, marestail, waterhemp and kochia. To learn about proper application tips, visit S.T.O.P. weeds with Liberty.

In addition to the LibertyLink herbicide trait in cotton, growers may choose cotton varieties with a GlyTol® trait, which allows tolerance to glyphosate. Growers who plant FiberMax® or Stoneville® cotton varieties with the GlyTol plus LibertyLink traits can spray glyphosate or Liberty herbicide to control a wide range of tough-to-manage and glyphosate-resistant weeds. While major problem weeds vary by geography, some of the more prominent weed pests controlled include Palmer amaranth (pigweed), marestail, morningglory, Russian thistle and grasses.

Growers should check labels; some older, commercially available FiberMax cotton varieties do not contain both the GlyTol and LibertyLink traits.

Cotton Disease Management

A well-thought-out disease-management program, including best management practices, proper seed protection and selection and fungicide applications using multiple modes of action should be implemented to sustainably manage diseases. The following Bayer solutions are valuable tools to consider for your program.

In addition to best-management practices for cotton – such as crop rotations – several products can help manage disease resistance and greatly increase success.

Starting off with a good seed treatment is an excellent way to control seedling diseases and protect cotton above and below the ground. The Bayer portfolio of seed treatments includes products offering protection against seedling diseases as well as early-season control of yield-robbing insects and nematodes.

For cotton-growing areas with a history of disease pressure and/or conditions that are conducive to seedling disease problems, growers can maximize their stands by planting in optimal soil temperatures and protect their cottonseed investment with a premium fungicide seed treatment such as Trilex® Advanced, which is the preferred fungicide partner for Aeris® insecticide/nematicide seed treatment. Trilex Advanced protects against a broad range of cotton seedling diseases, including those caused by Rhizoctonia, Fusarium and Pythium, while Aeris offers broad-spectrum protection against insect pests and nematodes.

EverGol® Prime is an innovative seed treatment fungicide that promotes stronger, healthier root growth for faster crop establishment. When applied on cotton, EverGol Prime controls soilborne pathogens such as Rhizoctonia. EverGol Prime is available with select FiberMax® and Stoneville® cottonseed varieties.

FiberMax and Stoneville varieties also help offset several diseases. For example, Stoneville 4946GLB2 and FM 2011GT and FM 1911GLT provide good resistance to root knot nematode/Fusarium wilt, while several FiberMax varieties have the best tolerance in the industry to Verticillium wilt, for which no chemical controls are available. The options with the highest level of tolerance to Verticillium include FM 2322GL, FM 1830GLT and FM 2334GLT. Additionally, Bayer has several FiberMax and Stoneville varieties that are resistant to bacterial blight.

Cotton Insect Management

The best approach to managing insect pests in cotton is preventative control. Bayer offers season-long insect control options from Bt trait cotton varieties, to seed treatments, to foliar insecticide products.*

Planting a dual Bt trait variety – such as TwinLink®, which is available in all new Stoneville® and FiberMax® varieties – protects against worm pests such as budworm, bollworm and armyworm.

A good seed treatment is an excellent way to control insects and protect cotton above and below the ground. The Bayer portfolio of seed treatment products offers the best seed-applied solutions available on the market today, from seedling disease protection to protection against early-season insects and nematodes.

For areas with a history of early-season insect infestations, growers can use Aeris® insecticide/nematicide seed treatment, which offers broad-spectrum protection against insect pests such as cutworms and thrips as well as reniform and root knot nematodes. Aeris offers growers two effective modes of action against thrips to ensure protection and manage resistance development.

An in-furrow, at-plant product, Velum® Total insecticide/nematicide delivers wide-spectrum, long-lasting control of nematodes and early-season cotton insects, including thrips, aphids, fleahoppers and whiteflies.

When insect population levels warrant foliar insecticide applications, cotton growers can choose from Baythroid® XL and Leverage® 360 insecticides. Baythroid XL, a pyrethroid, performs on a broad spectrum of insect pests, with fast knockdown and long residual control. Leverage® 360 with Stress Shield™ protection enhances a crop’s ability to handle a variety of abiotic and biotic stresses, such as stink bugs and bollworms, thereby maximizing yields. Its two modes of action offer rapid knockdown and residual protection. Application timing should be based on careful scouting and local economic thresholds. 

*Please read the entire label for the best possible results and to confirm that the product is effective on the pest you need to control. Not every product is suitable for every situation nor registered for use in every state, and correct application techniques will ensure the best results. Baythroid XL and Leverage 360 are Restricted Use Pesticides.


Visit our cotton section for information on a portfolio of products from Bayer to help cotton growers maximize yields and enhance fiber quality, or contact your local Bayer representative.

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