Early season insect problems, disease and wind damage are among a plethora of good reasons to wait until May to plant cotton in eastern North Carolina.

On the other hand, long-time Beaufort County, N.C., Extension Farm Agent Gaylon Ambrose says there are plenty of reasons to plant early.

Cotton was a popular crop in the Black Lands region of eastern North Carolina back in the 1960s. Weed problems, excessive growth patterns of then new cotton varieties and the lure of other crops took cotton out of the equation for nearly 30 years.

In 1991, one grower (Milton Prince) tried cotton and by 1995, a handful of Beaufort County farmers were back in the cotton business. They built a gin in 1996 and were on their way to becoming one of the top cotton producing counties in the state.

Cotton in Beaufort County and Gaylon Ambrose grew together in popularity. Ambrose carefully tracked the growth of cotton, developing a few theories about growing cotton that didn’t exactly mesh with the experts.

“On the one hand, our growers had a steep learning curve when they first started growing cotton. On the other hand, they didn’t have any biases about how to grow it. As their county agent, I had a steep learning curve, too,” Ambrose recalls.

As part of his steep learning curve, Ambrose closely tracked cotton research in Mississippi. Over five years these researchers planted cotton early (April 1) versus late-April and early-May. Four years out of five they got better yields on early planted plots, and on the fifth year there was no difference in yield.