For the average person, cotton is one of those materials that we see and use daily in clothing, bed sheets and upholstery to name a few, yet we rarely think about the process, time and effort that goes into growing and harvesting this essential product.
To the farmers that year on year provide us with cotton, the work has not gone unnoticed. Here are 5 helpful tips for you, so hopefully you can farm more efficiently and see some increased profits from yield improvement as a reward for all your hard work.
1 – picking the right cotton variety
The key to picking the right cotton variety to grow is finding a plant that has the right balance between yield and quality when it comes to harvesting the product. This should be the first thing you look for in the cotton varieties available to you: essentially this will help you to cut out any unprofitable varieties so you don’t waste time considering crops that won’t make you money no matter how well they grow. After all, a farm is still a business.
Once that has been considered take a look at the fibre quality – this will be determined by the genetics of the plant rather than as a result of farming practices, so figures you see should be very accurate. You can make a good informed decision based on this.
Lastly, consider how stable the variety is. If your farm is prone to drought for example, look into how each variety responds to that stress before deciding which you will go ahead with. University studies are a good place to look but if you can get advice from other experienced cotton farmers or even do some test studies yourself, you’ll get a more accurate evaluation.
2 – preparing the land
As any cotton farmer will tell you, soil needs to be well drained for growing good cotton successfully. That being said, you’ll still need to be in a location with moderate rainfall (or carefully controlled irrigation) for the growing period of the plant to ensure that it reaches its potential. Long sunny days are also important for the plant to mature – it’s easy to see why the southern US states grew cotton to the point they were known as the “cotton belt”. Yet some cotton varieties are becoming increasingly sturdy and able to withstand more temperate climates, making it a viable crop for farms further north.
For the cotton plant roots to really hold firm and reach the nutrients in the soil they need to grow, you’ll want to have deep, loose soil in your fields. The usual way to accomplish this would be deep and thorough ploughing. Well drained or dry soils that have recently been ploughed are much more prone to soil erosion. This means those important loose, nutritious soils can blow or wash away before you even have a chance to sow your cotton. Our advice? Keep the gap between ploughing and sowing as small as possible and maybe even check out some cover crops to help reduce soil erosion while your cotton seeds germinate and grow.
3 – picking fertilisers
Cotton plants typically need nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium for successful, plentiful growth and cotton production. These are the nutrients the plant needs most and unless your fields are incredibly deficient in any other nutrient (finding this out is important for precision agriculture and making informed decisions in farm management, so get it done if you haven’t already), you’re unlikely to need to fertilise fields for anything else.
Most nitrogenous fertilisers will do the trick in helping your cotton plants grow to their full potential, so it really comes down to personal choice as to which brand you pick. You could even go for organic, chemical-free solutions if you’re aiming for ‘organic cotton farmer’ status. Most of us will continue to choose our proven, effective chemically balanced fertilisers though.
Unfortunately, this can also lead to some pretty nasty weeds cropping up, which leads us onto the next tip…
4 – picking herbicides and pesticides
Pests can be a real problem when it comes to cotton, but these days with many varieties being genetically modified to either produce insecticide or be resistant to pesticides, you’ve not got so much to worry about.
Our tip for you is to research thoroughly and understand the impact of herbicides and pesticides on your fields. While herbicides and pesticides can be relatively cheap and an effective way of dealing with unwanted interference, they also have downsides from damaging your soil acidity and nutritious balance to harming the environment. If you’re on a crop rotation this is especially important to consider as remaining herbicides could linger and damage the next crop.
Step 1 is to understand what herbicides, pesticides and insecticides are essentially needed on your cotton fields, step 2 is to use that information wisely so you can use these substances efficiently, saving you money, time and increasing yields.
Cotton growing remains an essential segment of the agriculture industry, with people worldwide relying on farmers to provide good quality cotton grown on smart, environmentally considerate farms. We truly hope that you’ve found our 4 tips to be useful in your future farming ventures, providing you with new ideas and efficient solutions to ensure your farm stays efficient and profitable.