Before the mid-1990s, conventional cotton varieties were all that farmers grew and had ever grown. However, in 1994, when Roundup Ready cotton hit the marketplace, soon followed by Bollgard and other transgenic varieties, such as Bollgard II, LibertyLink and Wide-Strike, the manner in which cotton was produced changed dramatically.
All of a sudden, Roundup (glypho-sate) could be sprayed over-the-top of a cotton field, and worms could be controlled via a gene – or genes – that was inserted into the cotton plant itself. Cotton required fewer inputs and became less management intensive than it had been in the past. In fact, by 2011, some farmers could actually call themselves “Roundup Ready babies” since transgenic cotton was all that they had ever known.
Pigweed And Budget Reductions
In the past few years, two circumstances have led to renewed interest in conventional cotton varieties. Palmer amaranth (pigweed) became resistant to glyphosate in many areas, thus requiring a whole new approach to managing weeds in transgenic cotton. Another circumstance involved farmers trying to cut back on input costs, and, as well as the transgenic cottons perform, some farmers thought the technology fees were too much for their cotton production budgets.
“Because of the resistant weeds that today’s cotton farmers are battling, they basically are having to use something close to a conventional type of weed control program anyway,” says Fred Bourland, who has been a cotton breeder since 1978, first at Mississippi State University, then with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. “That’s probably one of the bigger driving forces surrounding conventional cotton. Another influencing factor is the availability of new worm insecticides that are much better than what we had prior to Bt.”
With this said, Bourland notes that the main reason for renewed interest in conventional cotton varieties stems from two or three years ago before cotton prices really jumped, and producers were looking for a way to cut costs.
“They saw being able to go back to conventional varieties on part of their acres as perhaps a way that they could reduce their tech fees,” he says. “However, with the increase in cotton prices, this is not driving the interest in conventional cotton quite as much as it was before.”
According to Bourland, to meet the need of providing conventional cotton varieties to cotton producers who want to grow them, “The University of Arkansas currently is releasing three conventional cotton varieties – UA48, UA103 and UA222. All three produce competitive yields, are early maturing, resistant to bacterial blight and have improved fiber quality.
“UA48 has been licensed to Ameri-cot, while UA103 and UA222 have been licensed to Seed Source Genetics,” he adds.
A Farmer’s Perspective
Wayne Dowdy, who farms near Somerville, Tenn., has planted from 200 to 300 acres of conventional cotton every year for the last three years, and, according to him, has had very good luck with it.
“This year we planted HQ210CT and HQ212CT, which are very similar,” he says. “We also planted HQ110CT on some of our later-planted acres because it is an earlier maturing variety. However, the majority of our conventional cotton acres were planted to 210 and 212.”
Dowdy says both varieties yielded and graded well. In 2011, part of his farm went through a dry spell, and, because of that, his lowest yielding conventional cotton came in at 1.4 bales per acre. The best yields were one and three-quarter bales per acre. He harvests his conventional cotton with brush head strippers.
The Tennessee farmer also plants some transgenic cotton.
“With the conventional and the transgenic, we pretty well follow the same insect control program up to the end of the year, but, invariably, on the conventional cotton we will have some worm pressure at the end of the season and will spray it about two more times than the transgenic cotton.”
As for weed control, Dowdy puts out a pre-emerge to help control pigweed, and, instead of spraying glyphosate for grass control, he applies a herbicide such as Envoke or Poast. At layby, he goes under both the conventional cotton and the transgenic cotton with MSMA and Direx.
Cold Tolerance Characteristic
The conventional varieties that Dowdy plants are all cold tolerant, and he says that characteristic is important in the area where he farms in Tennessee.
“We have some cold ground around here, and the cold tolerant cotton allows us to plant a little earlier,” he explains. “The only Seed Source Genetics cotton I’ve ever replanted is where water stood on the crop for two or three days after a big rain. No cotton seed can take that.”
Dowdy notes that several of his neighbors also plant some conventional cotton acres, and for the last three years, the replant has been virtually non-existent.
“In West Tennessee, you can plant cold tolerant cotton the last seven to eight days in April if the weather is permissible,” Dowdy says. “You can plant this cotton on thin ground or good ground, and it will make real good cotton. You typically have to manage it a little closer than the transgenic cotton, but we’ve made money with conventional varieties, and that’s the name of the game.”
Contact Carroll Smith at (901) 767-4020 or firstname.lastname@example.org.