⋅ BY CARROLL SMITH ⋅
When George B. Walker and his partners launched the Stoneville Pedigreed Seed Company in 1922, his business plan was simple: “To increase the economic value of an acre of cotton.”
To recognize the cotton brand’s 100-year legacy and service to growers, a Stoneville Celebration was held recently in the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, Mississippi.
Some notable Stoneville varieties include:
→ Stoneville 213 — 1961
→ ST 474 — 1994
→ BXN 47 — 1998
→ ST 4892BR — 2000
→ ST 4946GLB2 — 2008
“We are standing on hallowed ground,” said Don Threet, Cotton Operations Manager for BASF. “Stoneville was born here at the Delta Branch Experiment Station.”
During his 32-year career with Stoneville, Threet has witnessed six changes of ownership, held 10 key positions and participated in many memorable experiences.
“I was involved in the development of the BXN-Buctril System, which was the first genetically engineered trait in a field crop,” he said. “We worked side by side with Rhone Poulenc even though we were two completely different companies. They had the chemical (herbicide), and we had the trait and varieties. It was exciting to see a large chemical company and a small seed company work together to accomplish this task.”
Threet also recalled an opportunity that arose in the late 1990s for some of the cottonseed companies to enter Upland cottons in the San Joaquin Valley variety trials. Typically, only Acala cottons were allowed to enter.
“We sent BXN 47 out there, and if my memory serves me correctly, there were nine trials and BXN 47 won eight of them and came in second on the ninth trial,” Threet said. “We licensed the BXN trait with CPCSD (California Planting Cotton Seed Distributors), they put it in Maxxa — their most popular variety — and sold it as BXN Nova. We let CPCSD distribute it for us and sold 10,000 bags of cottonseed in two weeks.”
Steve Nichols, Ph.D., South Region Agronomy Lead for BASF, grew up in the Mississippi Delta and lived there until 2006. His family didn’t farm, but he recalls his first job at age 9 was working for friends of his parents chopping cotton with a hoe.
“That was my way to earn a little money, and it also set the stage for my appreciation of agriculture and the people who work in agriculture,” he said. “After I graduated from Mississippi State, I worked for a consulting company for 16 years, returned to Mississippi State to complete my Ph.D. and went to work for Bayer in 2006.”
During his tenure with Bayer, Nichols had the opportunity to work with the Stoneville and FiberMax brands. BASF acquired the brands in 2018 and for Nichols, the rest is history. Today, he is in on the ground floor of the “next big thing” for BASF and select Stoneville and FiberMax varieties — Axant Flex herbicide trait technology, cotton’s first quad-stacked herbicide trait package.
The plan, Nichols said, is to develop varieties well adapted to all growing regions and then place the trait technology in them. He said once the geographic fit is established, then the next step is to determine the best way to manage them.
“That’s how you get the best genetic potential out of these varieties when you understand where to place them and how to manage them,” Nichols said.
“I am excited about the future of Stoneville. But at the end of the day, it’s the grower, the consultant and the Extension and research folks who say, ‘This is a product we will recommend.’ Then you have a sense of pride when you see it performing well on a farm.
“I thank the growers for having confidence in the brand and wanting to plant our varieties.”