As most cotton producers like to say, it’s better to have several choices when making decisions on seed varieties. Never has that been truer as farmers look to the 2010 season.
For that reason, it should come as no surprise that Texas High Plains producer Barry Evans typifies the approach that many farmers take.
Despite the temptation to plant a new variety when it initially becomes commercially available, Evans likes to observe the variety’s performance in plot trials for at least two years before he makes his final decision.
That usually means he has test trials on his own farm so that he can gain a firsthand view of the variety’s performance. There is also the information to be gained from various Texas AgriLife Research and Extension trials conducted in the region.
Evans, current president of Plains Cotton Growers Association, says there was a time many years ago when he could observe a new variety for three or four years before making a decision. Given today’s shelf life for some varieties and economic pressures, it’s hard for any producer to wait that long before making a final decision.
Still, for a farmer such as Evans who evenly splits his 2,200 acres between cotton and grain sorghum, it pays to have a good mix of several cotton varieties every year.
“There are so many good varieties coming at us, and they’re all good,” says Evans. “It’s definitely tough making a decision.”
Plenty Of Choices
The High Plains producer says it’s beneficial to farmers in Texas that so many new varieties are available and have the potential to deliver high yields and excellent quality. But Evans also knows that it’s unwise to embrace any variety too quickly – no matter how promising it might appear.
“We’ve seen one-year wonders, and they’re good for one year and that’s it,” he says. “I’ve done that before. It might work in a particular situation for a year, but we have to remember that every year is different. That’s why I like to look at a variety for at least two or three years.”
Evans is also a prime example of why it’s better to plant several different varieties. From a yield performance standpoint, most Extension specialists always recommend having a diverse mix of cotton varieties.
In Evans’ case, that will result in a probable variety mix in 2010 that includes FiberMax, Delta & Pine Land, All-Tex, PhytoGen and NexGen.
Another consideration for producers as they choose varieties is the financial investment made in seed purchases at the beginning of the season.
“The front-end investment in seed is pretty important,” says Evans. “And there is no doubt that there is a lot of pressure. It’s another example of what we face when growing cotton in Texas.”
Top Quality Needed
Despite the challenge of those high seed costs, Evans realizes that it’s important to have access to the best-performing varieties if the High Plains is to continue delivering world-class fiber quality.
No matter how unpredictable the weather is in this region, cotton continues to reign supreme because of its profitability. That trend has evolved into a world reputation for High Plains cotton in both quality and yields.
“We know that we can grow quality in this region, and that’s why we need access to the best varieties,” says Evans. “However, it has to make sense from a technology and economical standpoint. That’s how we can meet the needs of the global customer.”
As good as the seed varieties are for cotton, there has been a slight drop in cotton acreage in the High Plains, but it is considerably smaller than what is happening in other parts of the Belt.
That might explain why High Plains farmers still like to have a crop mix that is compatible with cotton. For instance, Evans has always split his acreage evenly between grain sorghum and cotton, and that isn’t likely to change anytime soon.
“That’s the way I’ve always done it, and I’m can’t envision doing it any differently in the future,” he says.
Are there other challenges in picking a seed variety on the High Plains? Yes, according to veteran Texas Extension cotton specialist Randy Boman who has observed Evans’ acreage for many years.
In addition to picking the variety that will suit a farmer’s specific field conditions, other problems are now prevalent, according to Boman.
Disease pressure is now becoming more widespread in this region as compared to previous years.
For example, verticillium wilt and nematode outbreaks have become serious. Boman says producers should look for “hot spots” in their fields and be able to identify those problem areas and work with Extension officials.
“Some of the newer Flex varieties coming out don’t necessarily have a high degree of verticillium wilt tolerance,” he says. “Producers need to identify those problems.”
Verticillium wilt is typically more serious in the northern High Plains, but is also problematic in the southern counties. However, the sandier soils tend to translate into root knot nematode and fusarium wilt problems in the southern area of the High Plains. Knowing about these problems should be a part of the decision-making process for farmers as they conduct their on-farm variety trials.
And how does verticillium wilt affect cotton yields and quality? Boman says it has a direct impact on micronaire. When the disease is at its worst, it can consistently trigger low micronaire.
“This problem is growing, and that’s why we need to find some varieties that are more than just tolerant of verticillium wilt,” says Boman.
Producers, Ginners Cooperating
The good news is that gins and producers are working together to find mutually beneficial solutions that will lead to smart choices.
Boman says many producers are planting enough of a new variety in on-farm trials to deliver several modules to a gin. The cotton is then processed, and yield and fiber properties are evaluated. Gins are providing that information back to producers, and many decisions are made as to whether a variety is acceptable.
All parties can also discuss the particular variety and eventually make a decision at the end of the season.
Boman echoes Evans’ thoughts about the big investment that producers make on the front end of the season with their seed purchases. Not surprisingly, he says it’s more important that producers determine what kinds of wilt diseases exist and if they have root knot nematodes in their fields before making such a huge investment in seed varieties.
He says there is a huge spread in some of the on-farm trials he has witnessed, and that can translate into $200 to $300 per acre, depending on the severity of the disease problem.
What does all of this mean for a producer? Boman says it’s all about psychological pressure and how a farmer deals with it.
“Once you put the seed into the ground, you have to live with your decision the rest of the year,” he says. “That’s why it pays to make an informed decision on the front end.”
Contact Tommy Horton at (901) 767-4020 or firstname.lastname@example.org.