Study finds rotating with corn boosts cotton yields

In Delta Farm Press

Cotton following corn in rotation resulted in an average 8.9 percent to 17.1 percent yield increase compared to continuous cotton in a 12-year study at Mississippi State University.

Wayne Ebelhar, MSU research professor and agronomist, discussed the long-term research project at the recent Beltwide Cotton Conferences in San Antonio. The study was conducted on two sites, the Centennial Farm at Stoneville, Miss., where cotton has been grown continuously “for at least 100 years,” Ebelhar says, and the Tribbett farm, which is not as productive as the Stoneville location. Ebelhar says the yield advantage comes from “the rotation effect. All other factors were the same.”

“This was a technology-based study,” he adds. “We planted GMO varieties and hybrids to maintain what farmers would do.” He uses conventional tillage and irrigates the plots.

Results on the Tribbett farm show an 8.9 percent yield increase; the Stoneville location yield advantage is 17.1 percent. Cotton following corn resulted in a 230-pound yield increase, averaged across 12 years.

Ebelhar says the trial design is somewhat unique in that data are available much sooner than typical rotation studies, which “take a long time to see the results. We plant every crop, every year, replicated,” instead of planting one crop one year and following with a rotation crop the next year.

The average yield advantage also includes two years with negative yield results behind corn. “This rotation can reduce yields,” Ebelhar says. “Excessive rainfall during reproductive growth,” he says, results in “bigger plants, larger root systems and boll rot. We lost a lot of cotton.” That situation played out at both locations.

He also notes that one crop can affect a following crop because of different production practices. “We’ve seen some herbicide injury,” Ebelhar says.

The rotation scheme included continuous cotton; cotton, corn, cotton; and one plot that included soybeans in the mix — corn, soybeans, cotton and cotton. “Corn following soybeans has surpassed corn following cotton by 12.7 bushels per acre per year,” Ebelhar says. That’s a 6.5 percent advantage.

“In the Centennial Rotation, the cotton, corn rotation resulted in a 222-pound per acre per year increase, compared to continuous cotton.” That’s a 22 percent advantage.

Read the rest of the story in Delta Farm Press.

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