Introduction to Cotton Crop Nutrition
Cotton has turned into one of the world’s most wanted crops. It is the primary source of natural textile fiber in the world. Around the world, plenty of cotton is cultivated. There are nearly 50 different countries with cotton crops. The crop grows well in tropical and temperate regions. When it comes to quality, there are two major types of cotton species. This includes G barbadense and G hirsutum. Cotton cultivation strongly depends on the use of Nitrogen (N) fertilization. Regions with plenty of nitrogen can contribute exhaustively to the production of cotton. The yield and growth of cotton crops depends strongly on the amount of nitrogen in soil. This is why nitrogen-based fertilizers are applied in and around cotton cultivation sites. The amount of nitrogen used differs from one to another. And, several techniques are used while spreading nitrogen in soil. All these methods are capable of handling the fertilizer’s high cost and rapid rate of consumption. The consumption of nitrogen fertilizers has increased from 2 to 13 percent in the past few years. To be more precise, 19.3 million tons of fertilizer is used by cotton crops worldwide. What makes nitrogen special is that the application of these fertilizers doesn’t cause any issues due to excessive or deficient usage.
However, studies reveal that problems economic and environmental concerns should be taken care off! Also, cultivators should be careful with the amount of nitrogen used. Traditionally, farmers spread nitrogen fertilizers in three different stages: pre-planting, the first bloom and peak bloom. Nitrogen volumes that can increase yield depend on the region, cultivators and soil variety. There are plenty of studies to reduce the use of nitrogen fertilizers and yet not compromise on yield. These studies focus on nitrogen allocation, the use of enzymes and metabolic pathways that can change soil and improve crop yield.
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Using Nitrogen for Higher Cotton Yield
The use of nitrogen has direct impacts on cotton yield. There are well known inhibitory effects. Though the use of nitrogen did not have an effect on average root length density, there was significant difference in the total root surface area and length. As the amount of nitrogen increased, the overall root surface area increased! This increased the total number of soil layers. More nitrogen creates a mutually beneficial environment for plants. The element can trigger vigorous leaf functionalities. As a result, more photo products are generated to encourage better root absorption.
Nitrogen is extremely important for photosynthesis and canopy area growth. With the right amount of nitrogen, plant growth will become rapid and better! There will a greater number of healthy leaves to encourage photosynthetic capacity. This in return would improve the crops’ reproductive powers. Meanwhile, low percentage of nitrogen can stop or slow-down leaf development. Crops that are nitrogen deficient will have fewer leaves. This means, plant growth, amount of photosynthesis and the formation of sugars for maturation decreases. Good nitrogen levels can encourage vegetative growth; whereas low amounts of nitrogen can destroy crops, difficulty in cultivation and late maturity.
The use of nitrogen fertilizers has a direct impact on the rate of plant growth, fiber quality and lint yields. As mentioned previously, high percentage of nitrogen is required to maximize yield. Unfortunately, this can increase the chances of nitrogen leaching and production costs. Cultivators are expected to handle the amount of nitrogen in soil carefully. They should make sure the right amount of nitrogen is used at the right time! For high yields, the application of nitrogen has to be broken into several splits. First, 30% of fertilization has to be done during the pre-plant phase. Next, 40% of fertilization should be done for the first bloom and the rest must be applied during the peak bloom stage. Some studies (Yang et al) states that the split ratio should be 0%, 40% and 60% for peak harvest.
However, cultivators should be aware of the fact that the amount of nitrogen applied is bound to increase. This can increase costs rapidly. The estimated efficient of regions with nitrogen ranges between 30 and 70 percent. So, everything else can be deeded as a loss. To take care of energy efficiency and improve crop production, the amount of nitrogen used during cultivation should be optimized! “Nitrogen use efficiency” is quite difficult to determine. Two major components control nitrogen efficiency: the rate of absorption and the amount of nitrogen used to produce better crops. Siddiqui et al, Gerloff et al defined nitrogen utilization efficiency as a ratio between nitrogen concentration and total plant dry mass. Few other nitrogen utilization efficiency formulas are defined by researchers too. Nitrogen Utilization Efficiency is necessary in predicting the amount of fertilizer to be used. It is important to predict NUE for any kind of agricultural system. Cultivators should maintain nitrogen utilization efficiency to balance inputs and outputs without experienced any losses at environmental or economic level. Cotton crops are likely to differ with respect to Nitrogen Utilization efficiency. It usually depends on environmental and agronomic conditions, along with genetic traits. Cotton cropping systems should improve the ratio between input and output by ensuring that more nitrogen is taken in from the soil and very little is lost. In most cotton cropping systems, the volume of inorganic and organic nitrogen has reached a saturation point. The percentage of nitrogen in soil is changing very slowly. If nitrogen is not absorbed from the soil, it means there is leaching, denitrification or volatilization happening. In such situations, the overall nitrogen utilization efficiency of the crops should include the amount of inorganic and organic nitrogen pools to make sure nitrogen recovery efficiency is relatively high.
Also, cotton crop yield depends on the type of nitrogen fertilizer. There are several different types of nitrogen fertilizers in the market. Cultivators should select the right kind of fertilizer for high yields. The right kind of fertilizer would reduce the risks of denitrification or volatilization. Common nitrogen fertilizers for cotton crops are ammonium sulfate, anhydrous ammonia, ammonium nitrate and urea. These fertilizers prove to be efficient and cost effective.
Cotton crops need to accumulate at least 250 to 300 kg N/ha to reach high yields. At least half of nitrogen would be used during this season. And, most of this nitrogen is obtained from the soil and not from fertilizers. Around 33% of the nitrogen applied is recovered, around 25% remains on the top surface of the soil and the rest gets washed from the system. Research proves that excess and deficiency of nitrogen can have negative impact on plant growth, especially cotton crops. The final yield is likely to fluctuate based on the amount of nitrogen in the system. For example, nitrogen deficiency will reduce total biomass and leaf area. It can reduce fiber quality too. On the other hand, excess nitrogen can trigger vegetative growth and result in bigger leaf structures. Larger leaves mean more surface area for photosynthesis. Thus, the energy for reproductive development gets re-directed to vegetative proliferation! Some cotton crops remain incapable of producing necessary reproductive development during harvest seasons too. Cotton crops are not capable of absorbing excess nitrogen from soil. Extra nitrogen leaches away slowly. This can result in ground water contamination. The best way to rectify such issues is by verifying the amount of nitrogen cotton crops require. Cultivators must make use of Nitrogen Usage Efficiency values while deciding on what their cotton crops really require.
Picking nitrogen rates for cotton crop cultivation depends on soil type. Critical factors include climate, production, crop management methods and soil management strategies. When it comes to maximum economic outcomes, the market value received from cotton crops and the cost of nitrogen fertilizer should be considered. Due to various chemical factors, the influence of nitrogen as it is capable of volatilization, denitrification and leaching – is quite difficult to predict. Soil has to be tested carefully to make sure the right amount of nitrogen is used. Nitrogen can be applied in various split applications that eventually result in higher nitrogen usage efficiency. Just like nitrogen rates, cultivators must be cautious of nitrogen timing! Timing has critical effects on nitrogen usage efficiency. Since nitrogen fertilization is done in three different stages that correspond to pre-plant application, first bloom and peak bloom application. The first application should happen before nitrogen gets transformed into various absorbable forms. However, this stage can increase the risks of nitrogen losses (especially if there are unexpected temperature variations). Most cotton crop seedlings do not need excess nitrogen by the end of autumn. Heavy application during this season can result in delayed fruiting and excess vegetative growth. Application of nitrogen at first bloom should happen 40 to 45 days after emergence. During this stage, nutrient uptake is really quick. Indeed, boll maturation, flower production and boll filling are times when there is heavy demand for nitrogen. The final application of nitrogen should happen two weeks after the first bloom. The fertilizer has to be provided until maturity. However, excess nitrogen during this season can result in rapid vegetative growth. Meanwhile, the soil has to be tested to understand more about nitrogen timing, rate and fertilizer types. These tests are important to reduce the cost of production and to improve overall nitrogen utilization efficiency.
Maximizing Cotton Production through Better Water Usage
Research proves that cotton production systems can be made efficient with maximized water-use efficiency. When compared to conventional areas with average cotton yields, places with better water management systems have better yields. These systems use water efficiently and prevent loss through free soil evaporation. These systems have special irrigation schedules to handle the flow of water based on the water requirements of cotton crops. These systems have special nutrient management and evapotranspiration management methods too. These methods make sure maximum nitrogen is absorbed by the cotton crops. To reach a goal of 50 pounds of lint for every inch of water, you need 5 pounds of nitrogen. This amount of nitrogen is required to make sure water is used efficiently too! Likewise, cultivators must take into consideration proper management strategies that can increase yields within all possible environmental conditions.
Water management strategies play a very important role in cotton crop cultivation. In the midst of high evaporative conditions, the ultimate goal of any water management strategy should be to maximize plant transpiration and reduce soil evaporation. Only a fixed percentage of water than seeps through the plant has the chance of increasing crop production.
Cultivators follow two basic techniques to increase plant transpiration and reduce soil evaporation
Modern cultivators plant narrower rows of cotton crops. Row spacing depends on soil type. There are several different types of soil. From loamy fine sands to clay loans, there are several soil types to consider. Most of these soils have generated yields that range between 10 and 20 percent. When compared against traditional rows, narrow rows can generate better cotton crop yields. The advantage of narrow rows is seen across different varieties of water supplies. However, narrow rows proved the need for summer rainfall to ensure high crop production. Meanwhile, narrower rows increased the chances of canopy closure. It reduced evaporation of soil and made sure water supply was partitioned efficiently to all the cotton crops. This results in better and greater cotton crop yields with the same amount of water.
Ground cover plays a key role in cotton production too. Wheat that is sown in autumn (after cotton harvesting) terminates between April and May. Cotton gets planted on standing residue. Terminated wheat forms ground cover to eradicate the risks of wind erosion. As wheat deteriorates, young cotton seedlings are naturally protected from blowing sand and wind. The straw cuts down the amount of energy that reaches the soil surface. In return, this reduces the chances of soil evaporation by improving wind resistance.
The only question cultivators should answer here would be how much water is necessary to handle ground cover? According to estimates, at least 3 to 5 inches of water is required. These conditions should be maintained for a considerable amount of time to make sure desired yields are reached.
Irrigation management is a long term process. It is necessary for cultivators to evaluate their cotton varieties and choose the right kind of irrigation methods. Indeed, soil has to be prepared with the right kind of beds and water systems too. Plants should be spaced properly, provided with water at the right hours and managed by experts who are aware of cotton crop cultivation! The entire process has to be managed by cotton growers who are aware of planting configurations.
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Almost all cotton crop nutritionists are pondering on how to improve the overall quality of plants! NUE is a key factor that helps in understanding, monitoring and improving cotton-based crops! NUE is undeniably a multi-genic quality. It comes with regulatory elements and signaling targets. Manipulating genes and various regulatory elements can improve the overall NUE figure of cotton crops. Indeed, plenty of approaches have been taken to improve NUE. For instance, precision application and plant sensing techniques are two major methods. Recent cotton field trials and simulations have helped in nitrogen management too. These strategies have reduced the need for technological constraints. As a result, nitrogen gets managed properly and cotton crop yield increases for cultivators. Agronomic management of the cotton crop fields should be considered as primitive ones that can affect NUE. If yield is considered as an important farming or cotton crop commodity, nitrogen fertilizers will be extremely important. Improvements of NUE should be heralded by all cultivators (especially if the price of nitrogen fertilizers rises in these energy-short days). Moreover, the quality of cotton fibers depends on nitrogen. Crops that were subject to nitrogen treatments saw high quality fibers. There was an increase in fiber length, micronaire and strength.
On the other hand, cultivators (to a very small extent) associated row spacing to plant growth in very small levels! With reference to plant mapping information, earliness was not improved by ultra-narrow rows of cotton crops. Cotton that grew in ultra-narrow rows had very little bolls when compared to crops that were grown in 101-cm rows. However, lint yields are similar between both production methods. This is because there is higher plant population in both traditional and ultra-narrow rows. Row spacing is believed to have very little impact on the 2nd year of a 3-year study.
This concludes this study with proof that cotton crops need the right amount of nitrogen and water for growth. Row spacing helps in cotton crop cultivation to a considerable extent. It is believed that adequate amount of nitrogen can improve the quality of cotton crops too. However, the results will be seen in the long run. It may take at least two years for high quality cotton crops to be harvested. During these days, nitrogen fertilizers must be applied on the soil. The application has to be broken into periodic and carefully defined stages.
You may also like to read:
- Read, J.J., Reddy, K.R, & Jenkins, J.N. 2005. Yield and fiber quality of Upland cotton as influenced by nitrogen and potassium nutrition. Europ. J. Agronomy, 24(2006), 282-290
- Nichols, S.P., Snipes, C.E., & Jones, M.A. 2004. Cotton Growth, Lint Yield, and Fiber Quality as Affected by Row Spacing and Cultivar. The Journal of Cotton Science, 8(1-2).
- Yang, G., Tang, H., Nie, Y., Zhang, X. 2011. Responses of cotton growth, yield, and biomass to nitrogen split application ratio. European Journal of Agronomy, 35(3), 164-170.