North Carolina’s cotton crop is truly a mixed bag this year due to the unusual spring weather, leaving some stands beautiful and others sparse and stunted.

These fields may have been hampered by thrips, cool nights and/or excessive rain, and probably need nutrients.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services urges growers to collect tissue samples and send them to its Agronomic Division for nutrient analysis. It is always a good idea to sample cotton during early to mid-bloom, but this season it is especially critical because rain may have washed nitrogen and potassium out of the root zone.

Tissue tests cost only $7 per sample and help growers make well-informed fertilization decisions.

NCDA&CS recommends collecting the first sample when the white tip of the first blooms begins to emerge from the oldest squares, and then following up with weekly samples through the third or fourth week of bloom.

It is best to collect samples after a few days of good, dry weather.

The NCDA&CS plant analysis report gives a complete assessment of a crop’s nutrient situation. "It is the only reliable way to decide if additional nitrogen or potassium needs to be applied," said Brenda Cleveland, chief of the Agronomic Division Plant/Waste/Solution Section. "If your goal is high fiber quality and quantity, tissue testing is a must."

NCDA&CS regional agronomists are available throughout the state to provide assistance and answer questions regarding sampling, submitting samples and managing plant nutrient or nematode problems. For additional information or to contact the agronomist for your area, visit the Agronomic Division’s Web site www.ncagr.com/agronomi/rahome.htm or call 1-919-733-2655.