Submitted to: Crop Management
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/19/2013
Publication Date: 11/27/2013
Citation: Pettigrew, W.T., Molin, W.T. 2013. Impact of starter fertilizer on cotton growth, development, lint yield, and fiber quality production for an early planted no-till system. Crop Management, pp. 1-7. Doi: 10.1084/CM-2013-0012-RS.
Interpretive Summary: Ever increasing input costs has made a difficult economic climate for Mid-South cotton production. To maximize profitability and ensure survival for cotton producers, it is important that they make the most efficient use of all production inputs. Conservation tillage provides a means of input reduction through a reduction in the number to trips the equipment makes across a field. However, this strategy can sometimes come with a yield penalty. Alternatively, increasing the yields without altering the inputs provided would also increase profitability. Planting cotton earlier than the normal planting window can sometimes increase yields without substantially increasing the level of inputs required. Starter fertilizer application has been demonstrated to provide benefits when applied to crops growing under cool and damp conditions, as can happen with both early planting and conservation tillage. In this study, USDA-ARS scientists investigated the response of multiple cotton varieties to starter fertilizer application when the cotton was planted early in a conservation tillage system. All cotton varieties responded similarly to the starter fertilizer, which increased lint yields by 4% in two of the three years. The quality of the lint produced was not substantially affected by the starter fertilizer. The lone negative consequence when starter fertilizer is applied in the furrow was a reduction in the stand establishment. A slight increase in the seeding rate could overcome the stand establishment issue. The results from this research can be used by cotton researchers, extension specialists, consultants and producers as an unbiased source of information to aid in making cotton production decisions.
Technical Abstract: Improved yield potentials occur when planting cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) early, but cool conditions often associated with early planting can hamper early seedling growth. Starter fertilizers could be good source of P for seedling growth under cool conditions due to reduced soil P mineralization. The objective of this research was to document how a diverse group of cotton cultivars responded to starter fertilizer application when planted early planted in a no-till production system. Seven cotton cultivars were grown no-till at Stoneville, MS during the 2008-2010 growing seasons. Plots either received an in-furrow starter fertilizer application or were untreated. Dry matter partitioning, light interception, blooming rate, lint yield, yield components, and fiber quality data were collected during the course of this experiment. Stand counts were reduced 20% by the starter fertilizer application. Few growth and development differences were detected by treated and untreated plots, although the starter fertilizer did elicit at one time 17% spike in the blooming rate at 90 days after planting in 2009. Despite the lack of observed growth differences and the reduced stands, plots receiving starter fertilizer yielded 4% greater than the untreated plots in 2 of the 3 years. Few meaningful or consistent fiber quality differences were detected between the fertility treatments. Starter fertilizer application can produce a modest yield improvement when utilized in an early planting no-till cotton production system. Producers must decide on a field by field basis whether this modest yield boost is economically sufficient to justify the additional input costs.