• B.S. in Textile Technology; M.S. in Crop Science; Ph.D in Agronomy,
all from Texas Tech University.
• Associate Professor, Cotton Breeder, Texas AgriLife Research, Lubbock, Texas.
• Former Agronomist and Global Cotton Breeding Manager, FiberMax.
• Fiber quality breeding, TAES; utilization, PCCA; and research, FBRI.
• Grew up on a farm near Abernathy, Texas.
Cotton variety development, cotton variety evaluation and cotton variety selection have been a thread running through all the different phases of my career. After trotting the globe understanding the importance of fiber quality markets and finding the right variety fit for various environments, I have been back in my native West Texas for three years developing cotton varieties for this region and evaluating cotton variety options from every source for their fit in West Texas.
The last two years, 2010 and 2011, we experienced a historical wet year and endured the historical dry year. The silver lining, I kept hearing, is that we should be able to learn a lot about variety performance in different conditions. Reflecting on that, what I learned most is that a “back to the basics” approach may be most appropriate.
In 2010 and 2011, Texas represented 52 percent of U. S. upland cotton planted acres, a statistic that makes the state attractive to seed companies. Texas represented 51 percent of harvested acres in 2010 and is projected to have only 33 percent of harvested acres in 2011, a statistic that makes the state risky for costly replant programs. Texas produced 44 percent of U. S. upland cotton in 2010 and is projected to produce only 26 percent in 2011, a statistic that shows how quickly weather can affect the perception of variety performance. The most often-cited advice for variety selection is to examine multi-location variety trials in your target region for at least two years. The last two years in Texas should give us an idea that variety selection for the upcoming year may not necessarily be based on the previous year’s results. But hold on. In the process of trying to fine-tune variety selection for every incident that may or may not occur, perhaps it is time to simplify the process.
There is no shortage of information on varieties, even in this era of rapid turnaround and reduced shelf life. Texas AgriLife Extension cotton specialist (agronomy) Dr. Mark Kelley’s large-plot replicated systems trials give an example of different variety types available and their performance in near-commercial conditions. AgriLife Research pathologist Dr. Terry Wheeler screens all available varieties for response to root-knot nematode and verticillium wilt. Small-plot replicated multi-location trials in Texas are published annually by the cotton breeding programs. These trials represent most all of the varieties available for planting in Texas as well as potential new ones entered in the New Variety and Strains trial in Lubbock. These trials indicate relative differences in varieties for gin turnout, lint percent, boll size, seed size, crop maturity, boll type and all the fiber properties measured by HVI. The challenge is how to use this information to get back to the basics in variety selection.
Texas is an attractive cotton seed market, and the number of varieties from which to choose is daunting. A step-wise evaluation of varieties available compared to individual production practices is in order. Small-plot replicated trials are conducted under both dryland and different irrigated conditions. Ranking at the top of the trial is not a magic bullet – all the varieties that perform statistically similar to the top-yielding variety are top-yielding varieties. Relative maturity of a variety becomes an important decision tool, depending on whether a producer wants to get the crop in fast, or take advantage of a full season.
If a specific disease is known to be present, there is a list of resistant varieties available. Boll type is also an important decision factor. Water availability, fertility, maturity requirements, presence of disease and historical storm loss can be compared to variety growth habit, relative maturity, disease resistance and boll type to help make the decision.
Variety trials can be difficult to interpret. If a variety is a top 25 percent performer most of the time, it’s a good variety. If in the bottom 25 percent most of the time, it may be too far away from home. In the middle, management considerations come into play.
The last, but not least, word is on fiber quality. Fiber properties compared against a known check, especially for fiber length and strength, indicate genetic potential. There is very little argument to plant a variety with marginal fiber quality if yield and other factors are similar. We will have short staple in Texas in 2011 because of the drought, but those varieties with the genetic potential will better weather that storm.
Jane Dever is Associate Professor and Cotton Breeder at Texas AgriLife Research in Lubbock, Texas. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (806) 746-6101.