September 7, 2005
Winds sweeping across the Texas plains mow down
almost 10 percent of the state's cotton annually, according to a
researcher at the Texas A&M
University System Research and Extension Center here.
Damage to seedling cotton can be prevented with cover crops,
without loss of moisture needed to make cotton lint, said Dr.
Todd Baughman, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station/Extension
Baughman's cotton cover crop research will be featured at the
centennial anniversary of the Chillicothe Research Station on
For the past five years, he has experimented with wheat and rye
as cover crops, including when to plant, where to plant and when
to terminate the cover crops. A cover crop is planted in the
fall and remains standing until the new cotton is about a month
In addition to protecting the young cotton, the cover crop can
reduce the labor required to hold the soil in place during the
winter, Baughman said. It also allows producers to work under
"If you were to leave that ground bare after cotton harvest,
without doing some kind of tillage, we'd have a tremendous
amount of blowing sand," he said. "This gives us the potential
to do some no-till without (the soil) blowing during the winter
Three years of study looked at spacing: planting two rows of
cover between each row of cotton; planting in every other row of
cotton; planting in every fourth row; and in every eighth row.
The spacing study is trying to determine a pattern to limit wind
damage, but minimize the amount of moisture required to maintain
the cover crop.
Baughman also looked at terminating the wheat or rye before the
head came out or when 50 percent of the heads emerge. More
emerged heads means better wind protection, he said, but as it
matures, it uses more moisture.
For no-till applications, he ran a strip till unit, tilling
between the wheat or rye prior to planting cotton. That was the
only tillage to those plots for a three-year period.
The initial three years of research found:
There was no difference in cotton yield found
between use of rye or wheat cover, but rye was much better for
Terminating at different stages resulted in no
difference in cotton lint yield, but the 50 percent headed
cover crop provided better wind protection.
There was no difference due to row pattern in
lint yield, but the every-row pattern performed best for wind
In the past two years, the study examined
termination timing of the cover crop. Terminations were made at
the boot stage and 10 percent, 25 percent, 50 percent, 75
percent and 100 percent heading stages, as well as two weeks
prior to planting cotton, Baughman said.
"In the first study, we didn't see a difference. But we feel
like there will be some time in the growth stage when it will
have an affect on cotton lint," he said. "We want to get an idea
for large producers how early they can start terminating and how
soon they need to be finished."
Only about 1 percent of producers planted cover crops five years
ago, he said. About 5 percent to 10 percent do now, Baughman
said, and he hopes that number continues to grow as his research
results get out.
Added cost in establishing a cover crop – added tillage and
equipment – along with the concern for loss of moisture and
subsequent reduced cotton yield, have kept some from adapting
the practice, he said.
"In four of five years with cover crops, we have not affected
lint yields," Baughman said. "There are additional costs in
establishing and terminating the cover crop, but a benefit is we
have no fall or winter tillage on that land and no expenses in
As producers' operations get larger, it's more difficult to find
labor to plow the fields during the winter and fight sand during
the spring, he said.
"In our operation, a guy could get by with a lot less labor than
what he could under a traditional system."