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It’s a good time to grow cotton

By George Mbakaya
Cotton plants in a Louisiana field

Revival of Rivatex East Africa presents a new opportunity for farmers frustrated by poor prices for common food crops.

The good old days when cotton was a major cash crop are back. Revival of the giant textiles producer Rivatex East Africa presents new opportunity for farmers frustrated by poor consumer prices for common food crops. The textile factory will require large quantities of cotton for processing. With fluctuating prices and tedious export procedures for other crops, cotton farming should be an easy choice for farmers. However, to maximise the benefits of this new opportunity, farmers need to adopt practices that will guarantee them maximum yields while at the same time delivering good fibre quality to the textile processor.

If you are considering going into farming cotton, here are a few things to note. To achieve highest possible yield and good fibre quality, selecting the best quality is the first step towards quality fibre. Plant varieties that have a history of higher yield and good fibre quality. Consult local extension officers for varieties adaptable to your area. Remember different cotton varieties exhibit different traits such as maturity period, disease and insect resistance. 

Conduct soil tests to ascertain soil fertility, soil pH and amount of fertiliser required for maximum yields. Application of excess Nitrogen can delay crop maturity and result in poor quality fibre. Pre-emergence herbicides may be used to control weeds before planting. Adequate soil moisture is required for a good crop. Sow the seeds under optimum weather conditions to minimise instances of disease attack. Planting during heavy rainfall will require that you apply a fungicide to control fungal diseases. Keep a close eye to stubborn weeds and get rid of them before they grow to 7 cm tall. Prepare a spray programme that allows rotating insecticides and fungicides with different modes of action from different classes to avoid resistance.

Water Management

Do not leave your crop water stressed. The crop requires adequate moisture for maximum yields. Avoid applying too much water because this will result in luxuriant growth that will delay maturity. Preventing of water-deficit stress beginning at first square is critical in establishing adequate plant structure to facilitate yield goals, especially with early-maturing varieties. Begin early bloom at or near field capacity and maintain adequate water supplies at least through cutout by constantly monitoring crop water use and soil moisture conditions, and by irrigating before the crop stresses.

The best approach to managing pests in cotton is prevention. Regular scouting for insect pests and possible disease outbreak is important. Cotton fields should be monitored for insect pests and beneficial populations at least weekly during the season, preferably two times a week after blooming has begun. In areas of high insect pressure or increasing populations, twice-a-week scouting is recommended. 

Scouting intensity and methods should be selected to suit the pests most likely to occur during a given stage of crop development. For some pests, the best scouting method, for example, sweep net, drop cloth or visual sampling may change as the crop develops. For instance, the sweep net is less valuable for sampling plant bugs in cotton once boll development begins because cotton of this size is difficult to sweep. Also, the sweep net is less efficient than the drop cloth in monitoring immature plant bugs.

Integrated pest, disease, and weed control is the best approach to manage pests, diseases and weeds in the cotton field. Efficient spraying programmes, using multiple sites of action and non-chemical practices should be adopted. To control diseases, crop rotation is recommended.

Look at the upper cotton bolls to check seed maturity. Defoliate when you see black seed coats. To determine the correct timing for defoliation, dissect the uppermost harvestable bolls and check seeds for maturity. Mature seeds feature dark or black seed coats and would indicate that the crop is ready for defoliation. Gauge crop maturity to schedule harvest aids timing to achieve the best defoliation possible by using a combination of herbicidal and hormonal-type defoliants, coupled with a boll opener, for a quick, clean harvest that preserves both lint yield and quality.

 [The writer is an expert on sustainable agriculture]


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