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web exclusive Jan CFBy Tommy Horton, Editor

Frankly, I didn’t know what to expect when I attended the recent Deltapine New Product Evaluator (NPE) Summit event in Nashville, Tenn. This has always been an upbeat meeting as producers learn about new cotton varieties that Deltapine will launch in the upcoming year. But something called “low prices” was overshadowing the event, and it was anybody’s guess what producers would have to say about the situation.

No matter how well a new variety might perform, it’s hard to deal with prices in the low 60-cent range – especially when those same prices were in the 80 and 85-cent range a year ago.

However, I have to give a lot of credit to the 130 producers who attended. It’s not the first time they’ve dealt with a big price swing, and it probably won’t be the last.  Everywhere I turned I found producers who were committed to cotton and willing to find a way to survive the price dilemma. I also found out that farmers in some states – like Texas and Georgia – will stay with cotton through thick and thin. They simply don’t have too many other options.  In Georgia, the cotton-peanut rotation is absolutely critical to having success with either crop. And, in Texas, cotton is the one crop that remains strong even if smaller acreages of corn and wheat exist.

During the opening Friday night reception and all day on Saturday, most producers I talked to were eagerly awaiting the chance to test new varieties in 2015 and see if they had a fit for their region. Two new varieties were launched at the NPE event – DP 1558NR B2RF and DP 1555 B2RF. Five other Deltapine XtendFlex varieties are awaiting regulatory approval, which could occur by late January.

One of the first things I noticed about the DP 1558NR B2RF variety is how broadly adaptable it is. According to Deltapine, it can be planted in the Southeast, Texas High Plains and Texas Southern Rolling Plains.  This new nematode-resistant variety follows in the footsteps of last year’s DP 1454NR B2RF variety, which performed well in parts of Alabama where I visited earlier in the fall. The other new variety – DP 1555 B2RF – supposedly has tremendous potential in high yield environments such as the lower Mid-South, East Texas and the lower Southeast. Deltapine officials say it was named after the famous DP 555 BG/RR variety that had so much success about a decade ago. If this new variety comes anywhere close to equaling what “Triple Nickel” achieved, there will be a lot of happy farmers out there.

The producers who attended this event aren’t oblivious about how low prices will affect them going forward. The topic was brought up many times during the Q&A session at the main Saturday morning session. Most of those questions related to how farmers could afford the XtendFlex technology while cotton prices were at such a low level. Deltapine officials acknowledged that this is a concern, and that might explain why no price for the technology was announced in Nashville. But, more importantly, the issue was addressed and discussed. It’s on the minds of both producers and seed company officials.

Maybe the optimism of producers has something to do with the continued performance of new varieties being delivered to the market. Yields are hitting new high marks. For example, who could have dreamed that certain dryland areas of the Belt would produce yields in excess of four bales per acre.  That is exactly what I saw in North Carolina last fall. And I had to do a double-take when I saw some of the yields that producers in Arizona and California achieved with yields in the five- and six-bale range. Granted, the environment in the West is conducive to high yields because of the length of the growing season.

Most producers at the NPE event are committed to cotton for the long term, and they will do whatever it takes to survive and be profitable. They acknowledge that a volatile global market concerns them. But they also know that the world wants cotton quality, and overseas mills realize where they can find that cotton – right here in the United States.

Even though the weather last fall might have had a negative impact on some farmers – particularly those in parts of the Texas High Plains – nobody is giving up.  Producer Ryan Williams of Farwell, Texas, is the son of long-time producer Mark Williams. He attended the NPE event and reflected on what he went through in 2014.

“We had a good rain right before planting, but then it was dry for a while, and we didn’t make much of a crop,” he said. “We aren’t giving up on cotton, and that’s why I’m here to see what Deltapine will offer in 2015. We know that unpredictable weather is part of the deal when you grow cotton in Texas. But we aren’t giving up.”

That “can do” attitude was reflected by every producer I ran into at this meeting in Nashville. It gave me a lot of hope for 2015.  There is one cure for low prices, and that’s “hitting yields out of the ballpark.”  I have heard more than one producer use that description, and it’s a good way of describing the plan for the new season.