In the 1943 musical Oklahoma!, cowboy Will Parker makes a trip to Kansas City in 1906 and is awed by the progress the city has made. He describes his experience in a song that includes the lyrics, “Everything’s up to date in Kansas City. They gone about as fer as they can go.”
In the cover article on page 8, University of Arkansas cotton breeder Dr. Fred Bourland reflects on 50 years of changes he has observed related to numerous facets of cotton production. Some topics he covers include legislation, plant development, yields and fiber quality.
He notes that in 1930, Arkansas had a record low yield of 119 pounds per acre. In 2019, the state had a record high yield of 1,185 pounds per acre. Over his career, he has observed yield plateaus from time to time. He says the first one, 1966-1983, “was mostly attributed to not combining new technologies in every discipline into a system.
“Once we did that, yields improved.”
The second plateau Bourland recalls was from 1988 to 2000. He believes it generally was caused by worm resistance to insecticides early on, followed by the genetic lag caused by the introduction to transgenes. Bourland says several factors contributed to the recovery that include:
• Boll weevil eradication.
• Rapid shift to transgenic cotton varieties to control bollworm/budworm.
• Improved genetics and varieties.
• Decreased acreage.
• Improved crop management.
Bourland says after witnessing the 1,185-pound-per-acre Arkansas yields in 2019, he is encouraged by their potential to continue to rise. But as we get into these really high yields, he wonders if “they gone about as fer as they can go,” given the Mid-South region’s climate. “Are we hitting some physiological limits?” he asks.
Bourland says he believes new genetics or production system breakthroughs may be needed to make another jump. For now, only time will tell. But as talented breeders continue their work, I, like Bourland, am optimistic that “there are some exciting things around the corner.”
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