In North Carolina, grower response to higher cotton prices resulted in a 38 percent increase in acres planted compared with last year.

As a result, the opportunity to optimize yield and maximize profit through efficient production is great this year.

Efficiency in fertilizer management means that fertilizer is applied only when it is needed, and plant tissue analysis is the best way to determine the precise nutrient needs of the crop.

Recognizing farmers’ potential for high profits, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is conducting additional tests on all cotton tissue samples submitted this year, thus improving the nutrient information provided to growers.

“We want to provide the most useful nutrient data,” said Brenda Cleveland, chief of the department’s Plant/Waste/Solution/Media Section.

“Routine cotton analysis typically costs $7 per sample and includes measurements of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in the leaf blade and nitrate nitrogen in the petiole. This summer, at no additional charge, plant analysis reports for cotton samples will also include a measurement for petiole phosphorus and potassium.

“Petiole nutrient measurements are good indicators of nitrogen and potassium availability in the soil on the day the tissue sample was collected,” Cleveland said.

“They provide a current snapshot. Leaf blade analysis, on the other hand, is an indication of the cumulative effects of growth conditions, including soil fertility, 14 or more days prior to collection. In the interim, rains could have removed nitrogen and potassium from the root zone.”

It is extremely important to assess nutritional needs early, because additional fertilization is largely ineffective after the third to fifth week of bloom.