While low-input, conventional-variety cotton production systems still boast some popularity in parts of Alabama, this might be the year growers should focus more on maximum yield potential, says Ron Smith, Auburn University Extension entomologist.

“For 2011, this may not be the season to try to cut input costs,” says Smith. “I would focus instead on trying to maximize yields this year because of the price of cotton.”

Researchers have been growing conventional cotton in Prattville, Headland, Fairhope and Shorter, Ala., says Smith. “We’ve calculated the seed costs, the technology costs, the weed control costs, the foliar insecticide costs, and the yield. We have a wide range of varieties, including Roundup Ready alone, insect resistance alone, and some pretty good conventional varieties,” says Smith.

Weed control costs generally are going to be a little more if you don’t have Roundup Ready cotton, he says. The foliar insect costs last year — because there were few caterpillar pests — were all the same.

“We sprayed twice for stink bugs over all of these varieties, but did nothing for worms. If you have worm pressure, that’s when you can get into some big differences. Our cost for pounds of seed cotton ranged from about 2.3 cents per pound to up to about 4 cents. It was pretty economical last year to do all of those things,” says Smith.

The bottom line with planting conventional varieties, based on research results from the past several years, is that economics will vary greatly depending on the weather, the severity of the insect pressure — particularly caterpillar pests — and the location, he says.

“We get more worm pressure in the southern part of the state than in the central part of the state, and even less in the northern part of the state. (To see an earlier story on how Ron Smith would control insects in conventional cotton, please visit http://southeastfarmpress.com/cotton/conventional-cotton-changes-insect-control. To see why some growers have been planting conventional cotton, please visit http://southeastfarmpress.com/cotton/alabama-growers-stick-conventional-cotton.)