Pulling the trigger on dryland cotton

30 October, 2018

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If there can be a positive to draw from a miserable winter cropping season, it’s that fallows are boundless and many have good amounts of stored moisture. This presents an excellent opportunity for planting dryland cotton – not only for those growers who include cotton in their regular rotation, but also for those with an eye on strong prices who may be swayed from other summer crop options. But the question of when to plant is now at the forefront.

In the northern NSW valleys and into Southern Queensland, a few weeks of storm activity (albeit patchy) has provided planting moisture on many farms. However, dryland cotton results in the last two years in particular have indicated that early crops are flowering right in the heat of January and early February, and the later plants from mid-November onwards have dodged the stress in this critical time. Warm, dry conditions in March and April have allowed time for these late crops to mature bolls and be picked before the cooler months slow things down. In general terms, the late crops have done better.

So sitting at the end of October now, if the opportunity to plant presents, should the proverbial trigger be pulled in case this really is the last opportunity? Or is it better to wait for that late window which may or may not come? Hedging your bets is a good option, and many growers have decided to do this by planting a portion of their potential dryland cotton area now and saving country for a later opportunity.

Variety selection becomes important as the planting window widens. Whilst in the northern valleys Sicot 748B3F is usually the go-to variety for dryland, this is an indeterminate variety which will fruit later and put on much of its yield further in the season. In the past couple of years this has been advantageous as it’s been able to utilise February rain with a later cut out and even a propensity to regrow following post cut out rain. The drawback is that this will take longer to finish. Sicot 714B3F by contrast can be a good option for a late plant as it will put fruit on quickly and be finished in time before the cooler months hit. On the flip side it may miss any real benefit of February rain if it eventuates.

With a noticeable shift towards more dryland cotton going in later, only time will tell if 2018/19 continues the trend of very tough January conditions and long gentle finishes. In the meantime let’s hope for as many planting opportunities as possible.

By Alice Devlin, Extension & Development Agronimist – Gwydir Valley