As Texas Extension cotton specialist Mark Kelley notes in his Specialist Speaking comments this month, “Variety selection is one of, if not the most important, decisions producers can make on an annual basis.”
In 2011, many Georgia producers had to rethink how they chose varieties after the predominantly planted DP 555 BG/RR was retired. This transition began in 2010.
Guy Collins, Georgia Extension cotton specialist, says, “One good sign between 2010 and 2011 is that we’ve had newer varieties come on the market that compete better than the ones that we had the year before. That’s a sign that the industry is progressing.”
In order to help producers in his state “learn” the new varieties, Collins and his counterpart Jared Whitaker in southeast Georgia took a proactive stance and started a large-scale on-farm variety testing program that complements the small plot OVTs beginning in 2010. In 2011, the trials were placed in 15 yield environments to get a quick picture of where these varieties are going to perform and where they are not. According to Collins, yield environments take into consideration rainfall, soil type, fertility management and a producer’s management style because they are all different.
“With this program, we can determine the yield environment by averaging the yield of all the varieties at a particular location,” he explains. “This past year we had yield environments across the state ranging from less than half a bale all the way up to well above three bales – some more than 1,600 pounds per acre. We try to capture every possible environment that a variety can encounter.”
Get Down To Field Level
Collins stresses that, ultimately, farmers have to make their variety decisions on a field level. Consider-ations at that point include factors such as water availability, weed control, nematode issues, growth management and even planting date.
South Georgia cotton producer Mike Roberts, who farms in Worth and Turner Counties on Tifton loamy sand, says, in his yield environment, he likes a seed with early seedling vigor and high yield potential. Most of his operation is irrigated.
In 2012, he intends to plant PhytoGen’s PHY 375 WRF, PHY 499 WRF and some PHY 565 WRF. Since 499 has performed well across the Cotton Belt, Roberts explains where it has a fit in his operation.
“I planted some 499 last year as a test, and it was all under irrigation,” he says. “It’s an early to mid-maturity variety – a real growthy type cotton. In 2011, it was the No. 1 variety in most tests in this area. This year, I am going to plant it under irrigation again and also try it on some dryland to see how it performs in those conditions.”
Determining Growth Management
In the Mid-South, east-central Louisiana farmer and crop consultant Roger Carter says they will plant PHY 499 WRF primarily on silty clay loam and clay soil types, as well as on some of the most fertile soils – irrigated and non-irrigated fields.
“Although we will plant 499 on some fields of highly fertile soils, it’s known not to set fruit on the lower nodes if conditions (warm, wet, fertile) are present that promote rapid, vegetative growth,” Carter says. “Plant growth regulators, such as Pix or Stance, are a must in order to promote early fruit set if those warm, wet and fertile conditions are present.”
Last season his firm had access to about a dozen sacks of 499, and they spread them around with several of their clients to observe performance under different conditions. Most was planted on non-irrigated clay or silty clay loam soil types, but some was also planted on fertile silt loam soils. Carter says yields of 499 on all farms were greater than that of any other variety planted adjacent to it. Since it was an extremely dry year, excessive or vegetative growth was not an issue.
“This variety is a thoroughbred,” Carter says. “If it is like 555, we can manage it, but we do not yet know exactly how much growth regulator we need to apply at various stages of growth nor what nitrogen rates are best. We hope to learn more this year and will be working with Dow to determine what type of growth management is best for 499 on various soil types. Dow, as well as farmers and consultants, certainly hope that 499 will be equal to what 555 was for farmers in the Mid-South and Southeast.”
Lone Star State Perspective
Moving westward into Texas, Gary Schoenfield, who farms near El Campo, says that the two main factors that go into his variety choices are how well a variety yields and how it grades. Seedling vigor is also important to him. In 2012, he is going to plant PHY 375 WRF and PHY 499 WRF.
“I like an early or medium-maturity variety because in some years we have the threat of bad weather or hurricanes,” Schoenfield says. “We can’t plant a late-maturing variety.
“I didn’t grow any 499 last year, but I looked at several plots,” he adds. “When I attended a meeting in Corpus and observed how 499 performed there, I decided to try it on my farm this year. I’m going to put it on my best black land, non-irrigated.”
Variety ‘Travels’ Well
Bill Robertson, National Cotton Council agronomist, stresses that farmers need to do their homework to identify the strengths and weaknesses of different varieties. Then manage the strengths and avoid situations that would bring out the weaknesses.
As for PhytoGen’s PHY 499 WRF, Robertson notes that it is rare to have a variety that “travels” as well as this one appears to.
“Think back to DP 555 BG/RR,” he says. “It traveled well in the Southern geography. But from the testing I’ve seen so far, 499 seems to travel well from North Carolina to California. It has performed under severe stress as well as under optimum conditions. That’s very rare.”
Robertson points out that seed companies put a lot of expense, time and effort into bringing varieties to the market. Sometimes a variety is broadly adapted, and other times a variety fits a specific region. They all have their strengths, but it is up to each producer to choose varieties that have the best fit in his or her operation.
Contact Carroll Smith at (901) 767-4020 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Louisiana Consultant’s Top 10 Variety Choice Considerations
Roger Carter, with Agricultural Management Services, Inc. in Clayton, La., says, “Not only for ourselves but for the clients with whom we consult, there are at least 10 parameters we must consider when selecting cotton varieties.” Following are Carter’s Top 10:
3. Yield: Yes, the first three considerations are yield – lint per acre. The more the better. It is that important. Farmers do not get paid for cotton stems, leaves, roots or a pretty plant.
4. Every field must stand alone: Each field is unique and requires that we be selective with which variety may maximize profits on that field.
5. Irrigated vs. non-irrigated: Some varieties respond better to irrigation than others.
6. Consideration of soil types: We select ranker-growing varieties for our clay soils and more stacked plants for our strongest, most fertile soils.
7. Fertility levels: DP 555 BG/RR could “mine” potassium from the soil. We are evaluating which varieties have that same ability. We have reached no conclusions yet on how each of the newer varieties will react on fields with low fertility and/or less than optimum pH.
8. Technology available: Fields with resistant pigweed require that we use different technology than where we do not have a pigweed or other resistant weed issue.
9. Weather tolerance after opening: In our neck of the woods in Louisiana, we are subject to hurricanes and/or torrential or sustained rainfall after cotton is open. Even though a particular variety may produce on the plant as much or more lint than many others, unless that lint hangs in the burr until it is picked, the lint it makes is meaningless.
10. Value per pound of lint: The value per pound after discounts can make a second-class yielding variety into a first-class production variety. But, it takes a lot of discounts to offset the difference in yield of 100 pounds.