The cover photo of this month’s issue of Cotton Farming says it all. Even though planting season is many months away, the decisions will have to be made soon on what varieties to plant in the spring of 2011. And you’d be hard pressed to find a more important expenditure for a cotton producer. Choosing the right variety isn’t a spur of the moment decision. It takes studying data, listening to your consultant and having the ability to absorb as much information as possible.
How far has the industry come in the last 10 to 15 years with regard to having the best possible varieties to plant? Well, you’d have to say a long, long way. We all remember 1996 when Bt cotton was introduced. That certainly changed the landscape as far as farmers having additional tools to fight off specific insect pests.
My frame of reference, however, goes back to the 2001 Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Anaheim, Calif. To me, this was an important benchmark for any discussion of cotton seed varieties. I still have a vivid recollection of a panel discussion at the Production Conference that year and hearing one of the most emotional debates ever about fiber quality and varieties.
It wasn’t a destructive debate. In fact, I thought all parties had a chance to air their feelings on the subject, and everyone benefitted from the exchange of ideas. The late Jack Hamilton of Lake Providence, La., was a respected and revered cotton producer in the industry and was part of that debate. The other two participants were Stephen Felker, president of Avondale Mills, and Tom Kerby, cotton breeder with Deltapine.
Hamilton speculated about whether the industry would ever be able to deliver the kind of varieties that could address both quality and yields. Felker then made an impassioned plea to producers in the audience that he needed better fiber quality for his mill – or he might have to look elsewhere in the world to find his cotton. Finally, Kerby strode to the podium, spoke with a calm demeanor and tried to reassure the crowd. He said that cotton breeders were indeed addressing all of these concerns and that “some exciting new germplasm is in the pipeline and on the way.”
The questions from the audience were sometimes heated as producers repeatedly asked how they would ever be rewarded for growing quality. To an outsider, it probably looked like a political rally. Everyone had an opinion and wasn’t afraid to voice it. Would reason prevail at such a moment?
Let’s just say that this meeting was the kickoff for a decade of remarkable technology development for cotton varieties. No, it hasn’t been perfect, and there have been challenges along the way.
The future, however, has never looked better.
If you have comments, send them to: Editor, Cotton Farming Magazine, 5118 Park Ave., Suite 111, Memphis, Tenn., 38117. Or send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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