Monday, May 20, 2024

New Mexico’s Research Has Rich History

By Brent Murphree
Maricopa, Ariz.

On August 25, New Mexico will celebrate the important link between producers and researchers at New Mexico State University’s Leyendecker Plant Science Center in Las Cruces, N.M., as part of the state’s historic centennial celebration.

New Mexico became the 47th state on Jan. 6, 1912, and by then cotton had been consistently grown in the state for centuries.

Archeological digs in New Mexico have uncovered evidence of cotton being grown as early as 300 BC, according to Wayne Smith and Joe Tom Cothren in their informative book, Cotton: Origin, History, Technol-ogy and Production.

Findings from the sites have yielded roasted seed hulls and cotton cloth, indicating the plant was used as a food source, as well as for fiber.

The New Mexico Agricultural Experiment Station (NMAES) reported growing cotton in 1891, but the first commercial production began in the Pecos Valley around 1910. In 1919, Mesilla Valley began commercial production, and cotton was established as a major crop by 1922.

USDA opened a cotton field station in Las Cruces in 1926, and G.N. Stroman began breeding for local varieties at the NMAES in 1928. The program developed New Mexico’s most recognizable variety, Acala 1517. Advanced strains resistant to verticillium wilt and bacterial blight were developed. The program also increased the quality and yield of New Mexico cotton.

Cooperation Creates Results

Cooperation has always been a trademark of variety development in New Mexico. The link between USDA and NMSU was established early on in the program. Information and germplasm were shared with other Western university cotton breeding programs. Unfort-unately, California and Arizona land grant universities eventually ended their breeding programs, leaving NMSU with the only program west of Texas.

The field tests for NMSU have been financed from several sources, including USDA, New Mexico’s university system and producer programs. In recent years, producers have dedicated a portion of funds from Cotton Incorporated’s State Support program to the breeding program.

This past year, New Mexico cotton producers decided to put all of their State Support money into the seed breeding program to develop further opportunities for their cotton.

Dwight Menefee, a Lake Arthur cotton producer and Director from New Mexico on the Cotton Board, agrees with the decision.

“NMSU has a long history of quality cotton breeding, and the State Support money we are dedicating will hopefully continue that successful tradition moving forward,” he says.

Reaping The Benefits

One current focus of the program includes a glandless Acala variety of cotton that has potential as a food source thanks to the successful illumination of gossypol in the seed.

Cooperation with Texas A&M has led to a variety that retains the gossypol in the plant for protection from insect pressure but eliminates the toxin from the seed.

Cotton Incorporated’s Tom Wedegaertner is funding a project where culinary flavors, including garlic, cilantro and jalapeño, will be added to the processed glandless cottonseed oil. He is also looking into the possibility of using the seed meal as fish feed in commercial growth operations.

The current focus of the program is to increase the lint yield and quality for glandless cotton. Jinfa Zhang, Associate Professor of Plant and Environmental Sciences, leads the NMSU’s cotton breeding team.

Plans for the centennial field day on August 25 are keeping everyone busy. There will be booths highlighting the farm’s production and projects as well as a presentation on border food security and related health issues. For additional event information, go to

Brent Murphree is the Cotton Board’s Regional Communication Manager for the West. He resides in Maricopa, Ariz.

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