I was raised on a small farm in Alabama where we always grew cotton and became very familiar with the crop at an early age. In, fact, my mother made me my own “pick sack” when I was five-years-old. After graduating from Auburn University, I started my career with the Extension Service in Alabama before moving into research. Ten years later, I became the cotton specialist in the northern part of the state. I retired from Auburn in February 2015.
This past year, we had some areas that went through drought, but in other areas, rainfall was plentiful. Overall, I think cotton yields are going to be a little bit above average although we still have to figure in the cotton that has not yet been picked following the heavy rains that fell toward the end of harvest.
When considering varieties for next year, farmers should first look at the Official Variety Trials (OVTs) in the state as well as in adjoining states to see which varieties are performing best. It also is a good idea for farmers to look at a two- or three-year average in those same locations. Since Alabama doesn’t have as much irrigation as some of the other states, farmers should pay close attention to how different varieties performed in a dryland situation.
Quality also is a big consideration since higher quality cotton provides a chance to get a premium. One of the challenges that we have with dryland cotton is high micronaire, especially in a drought situation where the plant puts its energy into adding fiber to the bottom bolls, which creates thicker fiber that can result in a discount. Micronaire of 3.5 to 4.9 is the standard. Anything over 4.9 falls in the high mic discount range.
Staple length is important, too. We are seeing several new cotton varieties with longer staples in the 37-40 range. This can mean a 5-cent premium to the farmer. If cotton is at 62 cents, this means an 8 percent increase in money, which is just like getting an 8 percent increase in yield.
Top-Performing PhytoGen Varieties
I have been observing PhytoGen® brand PHY 333 WRF and PHY 444 WRF quite a bit this year. One of the most important attributes to consider in a variety is turnout – how much lint you can get out of a pound of cotton. PHY 333 WRF and PHY 444 WRF have very good turnout, 43.5 to 44 percent, which adds to the weight of the module.
Both varieties have lower micronaire and extra long staple. We are seeing a lot of 37s and 38s with PHY 333 WRF and a lot of 38s, 39s and 40s with PHY 444 WRF, which is a much longer staple than we typically see with Upland cotton varieties. These varieties also have average to above-average strength.
My goal is to continue to identify research areas that will help Alabama’s cotton farmers achieve higher yields and profits. With new technology, we hope to speed the transfer of this information to our farmers.