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- Q&A -

Jane Dever’s Goal –
Excellence In Research

EDITOR’S NOTE – Jane Dever is Associate Professor of Cotton Breeding at Texas AgriLife Research in Lubbock. She assumed leadership of the cotton breeding program when John Gannaway, professor of cotton breeding and leader of the Cotton Improvement Program at Lubbock for 28 years, retired on Aug. 31. In this interview with Cotton Farming, Dever talks about her new assignment and the future of cotton production on the Texas High Plains.

Have you settled into your new position, and how is the transition going so far?

I am fortunate that Texas AgriLife Research allowed me to come on board in April and make planting decisions for this season. I am becoming more and more familiar with the materials we have in the field, but this is a large, comprehensive program, and I am still gaining an understanding of all the research projects. The transition is going extremely well, but I recognize there is a lot to learn about the public research sector and the needs of our stakeholders.

How difficult is it to follow someone like John Gannaway, who has achieved so much in cotton breeding in the last 28 years?

I consider building on the legacy left here to be a tremendous challenge. While my own spin, experience and philosophy will be applied in the breeding program, I will always remain cognizant of his vision.

Can cotton breeding continue to deliver the necessary germplasm to take cotton production to the next level?

Oh, yes. As new technology in breeding tools, irrigation and production technology continue to come on line, there will be dynamic objectives to address in germplasm development. Turning to regional production constraints in disease and abiotic stress and utilizing an existing foundation of breeding lines with high fiber quality and yield potential can help us reach and continue to expand the next performance level.

Is there a sense of pride or heightened pressure in knowing that more than half of U.S. cotton production is in Texas?

Pressure comes from making sure we deliver the right kind of quality for the market, and I am already proud of the multi-disciplinary approach we will continue to deploy, bringing quality to the next level with improved fiber evaluation methodology and research in production and processing that addresses quality.

Can the rest of the Belt learn anything from the success of cotton producers in the High Plains?

Every region has its own challenges and forces beyond the control of cotton producers and the allied industry. Solutions in one area don’t necessarily transfer to another. One thing that stands out to me is producers on the Texas High Plains have been steadfast and consistent in their proactive support for research, both through direct support from the Plains Cotton Improvement Program, which helps fund the public breeding program, and in their interest and involvement in research throughout the production and processing chain.

Do you worry about the increased corn, wheat and soybean acreage in the rest of the Belt, and how that ultimately might affect the Texas High Plains?

Before the commodity surge, cotton was already grown on fewer acres as a crop than corn and soybeans, making it a potentially less lucrative option for redeploying new technology, but we have been on the cutting edge of technology and biotechnology adoption. It has been considered a weakness of the Texas High Plains that we have fewer crop production options, but our cotton industry remains strong. Every time I hear of reduced acreage elsewhere, it is cause for concern, because without a critical mass of cotton acreage, we risk being unable to appropriately fund cotton programs.

How does it feel knowing that Texas High Plains picker varieties can compete with any region in the world in fiber quality?

To me, picker varieties simply mean how they are harvested, and certainly not all varieties classified as picker are created equal when it comes to performance on the High Plains. I started my career in cotton breeding 25 years ago determined to show high quality cotton could be bred and produced in the stripper-harvested areas of the High Plains. I consider it an accomplishment to have been associated at Bayer CropScience with an effort to bring high fiber quality varieties that could perform in our region. And I’m proud of the producers’ adoption and their mastery of the production learning curve.

Changes are occurring fast in cotton production. What do you see for the future of the industry?

New developments coming from production and genetic research will continue to address water and energy resources. Personally, I am excited about new fiber measurement technology from the Fiber and Biopolymer Research Institute that will enable us to refine our fiber quality research.

As producers continue to deal with challenges such as increased input costs, what message would you want to deliver to them?

I never cease to be impressed with the quality of our commodity and producer groups in cotton. They will continue to look after the interests of this industry. It is in no one’s best interest to price us out of a strong and competitive position. As for my small part of it, I want to continue to ensure that we have available the very best, competitive germplasm that addresses regional production constraints not necessarily covered by biotech research from which to deliver the latest technology.

Jane Dever’s Career In Cotton Breeding/Research

• Native of Abernathy, Texas.
• Grew up on family farm.
• Earned bachelor, master’s and doctorate degrees from Texas Tech University.
• Senior research scientist, BioTex.
• Textile engineer, Plains Cotton Cooperative.
• International Textile Center, Texas Tech University.
• Product development manager for FiberMax cotton, 1998-1999.
• Coordinated cottonseed breeding from 1999 to 2008 at Aventis and Bayer CropScience.

Contact Jane Dever in Lubbock, Texas, at jdever@ag.tamu.edu or (806) 746-6101.


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