If you’re raising cotton in the South and looking for ways to increase the value of your crop, cover crops might be a potential solution.

A 2-year study at the University of Western Sao Paulo and Sao Paulo State University in Brazil found applying potassium (K) to a grass cover crop grown before cotton in sandy soil lowered production costs and resulted in cotton with a higher market value, according to an article on Science X news website.

The cotton produced after applying K had a smaller proportion of short fibers. These qualities produce finer cotton fabric that is higher quality, fetching a higher price on the market.

Typically, K is applied twice to a cotton crop. Applying K to the cover crop means that growers only have to apply K once, saving labor, fuel and wear and tear on equipment. The researchers also believe the practice of applying K to covers will reduce fertilizer use, further lowering production costs.

The research found that early K application enabled the cover crop to recover nutrients from the soil while protecting the soil. When the cover crop dried out, it released K in the first rain to the next crop — in this case, cotton.

Using cover crops means more water is available in the soil for the cotton plant to use, resulting in increased fiber size. Using cover crops for mulch also helped reduce soil temperature, further conserving water and making more water available for the cotton plant to use.

K plays a key role in controlling water loss in plants. K regulates stomata functioning, carbon dioxide fixation, enzyme activation, nutrient transport and aiding with stress tolerance. Soil K reaches plant roots by diffusion, accounting for 72-96% of each plant’s requirement.

The research found that cotton plants maintained their yield levels even though cover crops were added to the rotation.