Steps to successful Cotton production

Cotton is one of the most important fiber and cash crop of India and plays a dominant role in the industrial and agricultural economy of the country. It provides the basic raw material (cotton fibre) to cotton textile industry. Data reveals that Cotton cultivation in India consumes 44.5% of the total pesticides used in the country. Cotton grows best in areas with deep surface soil, high water holding capacity, good internal drainage and pH ranging from 5.5 to 7.0.

Step 1. Land Preparation

The field can be prepared using either the conventional or the minimum tillage method.

Conventional Tillage

For typical upland field, plow at least 15 cm deep (6 inches) then harrow two or three times for good soil tilth, good weed control, uniform seed germination and good plant stand. Then make furrows by passing an animal-drawn plow at recommended distance.

Minimum Tillage

In lowland field, cut stubble close to the ground immediately after rice harvest so as not to interfere with cotton seedlings. Clean the field by handweeding or by applying an appropriate herbicide. In saline areas, make furrow slices with one passing of an animal drawn plow at recommended row distances to remove the highly saline soil surface that adversely affects the germinating seedlings.

Step 2. Basal Fertilization

For the hill-drop planting method, apply basal fertilizer along the furrows before planting, then cover thinly with soil. For dibble planting, dibble the fertilizer 5-8 cm away from the seeds just after planting or within one week after emergence. Make sure the fertilizer does not come in contact directly with the seeds. To maintain soil organic matter, liberally apply and incorporate with the soil plant residues and animal manure or any low cost organic fertilizer available in the farm.

Step 3. Planting and Initial Irrigation

Certified Seeds

For the hill-drop planting method, apply basal fertilizer along the furrows before planting, then cover thinly with soil. For dibble planting, dibble the fertilizer 5-8 cm away from the seeds just after planting or within one week after emergence. Make sure the fertilizer does not come in contact directly with the seeds. To maintain soil organic matter, liberally apply and incorporate with the soil plant residues and animal manure or any low cost organic fertilizer available in the farm.

Seed Treatment

Before planting, soak the seeds in fungicide solution for 6 to 10 hours using the recommended fungicides . Then drain and incubate the seeds in a warm, moist place for not more than 12 hours.

Method of Planting

For typical upland, well-cultivated field, hill-drop three to four seeds per hill in the prepared furrows then cover the seeds thinly with soil. Follow the recommended distances. For minimum tillage (direct dibbling or furrow slicing method), dibble the seeds 6 to 8 cm deep using a pointed stick. Use a string as row guide if the preceding rice crop was planted randomly, otherwise, use the rice rows as guide.

Spacing/Plant Population

The maintenance of proper plant population is important in ensuring high seedcotton yield. The desired plant spacing/density for the various agro-climatic growing conditions in the country. In saline areas and where planting could not be done within the prescribed schedule, cotton transplanting can be practiced. Raise the seedlings in soil blocks or other appropriate media in 30-40 days. Set the transplants following the desired spacing using a soil molder/digger or in furrow slices.

Seeding Rate

Seeding rate depends on the recommended plant density and seed germination percentage. Late planting usually requires higher seeding rate. Generally, the recommended seeding rates are as follows:

  • Luzon - 15-20 kg/ha
  • Visayas - 10-15 kg/ha
  • Mindanao - 10-15 kg/ha

Step 4. Replanting and Thinning


Replant missing hills within 10 to 22 DAP. Delayed replanting results in uneven plant stand and maturity, which make it difficult to control pests and diseases


Thin the plants within 14 to 27 days after planting (DAP), leaving two vigorous plants per hill. Delayed thinning results in weak and lanky plants.

Step 5. Off-barring, Side-dressing and Hilling-up


Intertillage cultivation during the growing season controls weeds, provides good aeration, and hasten water infiltration when it rains or during irrigation. At 22-27 DAP, pass a spike-tooth harrow in between the furrows. Off-barring or hand-hoeing at 35 DAP.

Side-dressing and hilling-up

At 42-47 DAP, sidedress fertilizer in band 3-5 cm away from the plant base, then hill-up immediately to cover the fertilizer with the soil. This method minimizes loss of N through volatilization. If the soil Is dry, irrigate immediately after hilling-up to dissolve the fertilizer. In case of over vegetativeness, sidedress with N may be unnecessary. Off-barring and hilling-up should be done if minimum tillage without mulch is employed, especially in areas where weeds are prevalent and furrow irrigation is practiced.

Step 6. Irrigation

Irrigation may be done through the furrow or hose method, depending on water source and economics of application. The hose method is recommended when water for irrigation is scarce. This is done by carrying the hose (usually 1- 1/4 plastic pipes) and directing water discharge to the rows or hills. To help reduce the frequency and amount of water application, mulch the field with suitable materials (usually rice straw).

However, this is recommended only if mulching materials are abundant and cost-free. Irrigation should be done during the crop's critical stages, i.e., on the 6th, 8th, 11th, and 13th week after planting. If the above schedules are not applicable, irrigation may be based on mid-day wilting of the crop and soil-feel method as it relates to the available soil moisture. Based on feel and appearance of the soil 15 cm from the surface, irrigate when the soil appears dry and will not form a ball with pressure on coarse and light soils, somewhat crumbly but will hold together with pressure on medium soils, or somewhat pliable but will form ball with pressure on heavy soils.

In addition, the following physiological indications for water deficiency may be used as guide on time to irrigate:

  • Temporary wilting at noon; leaves turn to pale green;
  • Inhibition of apical growth: there is rosetting of shoots or shortened internode;
  • Reddish coloration of the stems approaching the shoots tip or the green soft part of the shoot tips is less than 4 cm;
  • Flower garden appears numerous flowers at the upper part in rosetted plants.

Step 7. Pest Management

Insect Pest Management

The major insect pests of cotton are bollworm, leafhopper, flowerweevil and pink bollworm. Uncontrolled, damage to crops can be substantial not to mention the high cost of controlling them. Proper pest management, therefore, is necessary to ensure a good yield.

Insect Pest Monitoring

Insect pest monitoring is vital for successful pest management. It guides and gives timely information regarding the presence of pest, thus allowing an intelligent decision whether insecticides are needed or not. Survey 20 randomly selected plants for the presence or absence of pests weekly starting from 21 to 96 DAP. Spray the recommended pesticides when the critical pest level (CPL) is reached.To check if insecticide used is effective or not against targeted insect pests(s), conduct an insect survey 2-3 days after spraying.

Spray Application

For an effective and efficient chemical pest control, the following should be considered:

Constant Pumping Pressure

Pump the sprayer slowly and constantly to ensure uniform spray. It is also less tiring and minimizes wear of the pump cylinder.

Correct Amount of Insecticide Per Tank Load

Remember to mix thoroughly the insecticide with the water inside the sprayer. To avoid operator contamination at the same time improves spray distribution, use wind blowing across the field as much as possible. If there is a crosswind, the spray mist will be blown away from the operator to the plants of the nearest downwind rows. No pesticide group should be used longer than four weeks at a time to prevent the development of resistant pest population. Unfortunately, pyrethroids, being the most effective chemical are the fastest to cause resistance development among insects. Hence, they should be used judiciously only for one bollworm generation per cropping season and should not be used during early crop stage so as not to expose insects to too much pressure. They may also cause resurgence of spider mites and aphids.

Organo-chlorines, e.g. Seven XLR can be alternated with Endosulfan while Methomyl may be used at a later stage because of observed phytotoxic effect. Nevertheless, Methomyl is effective because it is systemic and with ovicidal activity. Carbamates are generally safer to handle, with low mammalian toxicity and shorter residual life.

Step 8. Harvesting and Post-harvest Practices


Bolls are ready for harvest 3-4 days after bursting. At this time the bolls are not nly physiologically mature but also dry. These bolls give the highest quality seedcotton. Harvesting bag like flour scale or bamboo crate should be used to avoid polypropylene plastic ("PP") contamination.

Drying and packaging of Seedcotton

Generally, however, sun drying for 1-2 days after harvesting is recommended to reduce the moisture content to 10-12%. Aside from ensuring good quality fiber, sun drying also kills pink bollworm larvae in the seedcotton.

Use only jute sacks or other packaging materials of flour sacks

Plastic sacks and string cause contamination of the lint resulting to reduction in quality and price.

Cutting/uprooting and burning of debris

After the last harvest, all the plants must be either cut or uprooted and burned. A tractor-drawn plow may also be employed to plow under and incorporate the cotton stalks in the soil. This kills insect pest present and thus prevents their build-up. Plant debris turned-under by deep plowing returns organic matter to soil.

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