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2021 Variety Selection Tips

STEVE BROWN, alabama

Steve Brown
Alabama

We met in a conference center lobby at Jekyll Island. I didn’t know him or what he did. It was his first day on the job. I was there to recap the season for growers at a Farm Bureau policy convention.

I later realized, he, as president of a large seed company, was there to take a tongue lashing about the high cost of cotton seed and technology.

Before going into the meeting, we talked about variety selection. His background was Midwest corn and soybeans. He suggested a mix split between traditional standards, present star varieties, and newly introduced ones, with percentages for each category. He advocated that a grower commit 10% of his acreage to trying new offerings.

That last category is particularly important in 2021.

DP 1646 B2XF has been the most widely planted variety in the country for several years and has been dominant in the Southeast. It has led to increases in yield and fiber quality, especially staple, and helped the advancement of Xtend. But like any variety, it is not perfect.

The fact that it is “old” technology — Bollgard II rather than Bollgard 3 — hints that it’s not going to be around many more seasons. Yes, we’ll plant a good bit of it this year, but what varieties should replace it? What are the future top performers that fit on your farm?

Land-grant universities aggressively test varieties in small-plot and large on-farm trials. Of course, seed companies do the same. Existing research gives clues as to what might occupy significant acres in coming seasons, but how do these fit on your farm? What are the nuances of management for each?

The approach of “trying a little” makes good sense. It educates you for the future, sharpening the decision as to which “eggs” should go in the proverbial variety “basket.” Make room to take a look at new stuff, at least in a small way. cottonbrown@auburn.edu

Bill Robertson, University of Arkansas

Bill Robertson,
Arkansas

Variety selection is one of the most important decisions a producer makes. Once planted, no amount of effort can make up for a poor decision. Many producers have booked their main varieties but may still be evaluating some of the new varieties in new technologies that are worthy of a look.

There are many sources of variety testing results. When selecting varieties for planting, don’t simply choose the top-yielding ones at any single testing location or year but look at the averages of several years and locations.

Each variety has its strengths and weaknesses. The challenge is to identify these characteristics and adjust management strategies to enhance strengths while minimizing weaknesses.

The best experience for new varieties is based on first-hand, on-farm knowledge. Evaluate yield and quality parameters of unbiased testing programs to learn more about new offerings. Plantings of new varieties should be limited to no more than 10% of the farm.

Acreage of a variety may be expanded slightly if it performs well the first year. Consider planting the bulk of the farm to three or four proven cultivars of different maturity to reduce the risk of weather interactions and to spread out harvest timings.

There are several unbiased information sources available to assist in selecting new varieties. In Arkansas, your primary source should be the University Variety Testing Program conducted by Dr. Fred Bourland. County demonstrations are another good information source. Results from both programs may be found at https://arkansas-variety-testing.uark.edu/.

Contact your local county Extension agent for assistance in obtaining or interpreting variety performance data. Please register for the upcoming virtual cotton production meeting at https://bit.ly/ARCotton2021 for the latest recommendations and production practices for cotton production. brobertson@uaex.edu

Randy Norton

Randy Norton
Arizona

As we complete the 2020 calendar year and look forward to 2021, we will all begin to see the rollout of new varieties and variety testing information. Seed companies will announce the release of new cultivars for the 2021 season.

Many of these will have been tested during the 2020 season as experimental varieties in various locations across the state, both in university trials and seed company trials. This information will be coming out in the next few weeks to assist you in making variety selection decisions for 2021.

This is likely one of the most important and critical decisions that you as a grower will make for the upcoming cotton season. I encourage you to look at as much information as you can get your hands on. See how a particular variety performs over both space and time.

A variety that performs well across a wide range of geographies and over multiple years of testing is a stable variety and should perform well on your farm.

Be careful of varieties where little or no testing data exists. These are typically unproven in our geography, and you are likely taking a heightened risk by planting that variety. However, because a lot of planting seed is produced in the state of Arizona, you may very well be approached by a seed company representative asking you to grow a variety for seed production that is new and perhaps untested in our environment. I encourage you to take appropriate steps to reduce your risk exposure involved in growing an untested variety.

Check with your local county Extension offices and the University of Arizona ACIS website (cals.arizona.edu/crops) for the most up-to-date variety testing results from across Arizona. rnorton@cals.arizona.edu

David Wright, Florida

David Wright,
Florida

Yield trials are conducted across the Cotton Belt under different management, soil types and weather conditions. The 2020 growing season was very good for most cotton growers, and many fields looked like record yields leading into harvest.

However, as cotton started opening in late August through September and into October, several hurricanes and tropical storms damaged the open cotton and seeds sprouted in the boll. In general, there was a high percentage of hard locked cotton, and the yields were below average.

Several fields were zeroed out by insurance, and other fields were harvested often with 30% to 50% yield loss compared to what was expected.

County variety trials with farmers were lower than normal, but the breeding programs for all companies continues to make improvements to yield, quality and pest control with new technology, helping growers stay in business.

Watch for cotton trials near you to consider new varieties for 2021 that have high yield, good quality and yield stability across the region with and without irrigation. Some varieties do better without irrigation than others and should be considered under your management.

Cotton yields were higher when following winter grazing by 100-300 pounds per acre lint. It appears that yield may been very high and there had been a good harvest season. More farmers are working with livestock producers in the Deep South to plant and graze cover crops prior to cotton planting.

The benefits are more residual nutrients and fewer irrigation needs due to doubling of cotton roots resulting in higher yields. wright@ufl.edu

Mississippi brian pieralisi

Brian Pieralisi,
Mississippi

Variety selection is the most important decision a cotton grower will make each season. This statement seems to be repeated each year, but it remains true even though it sounds like I am beating a dead horse.

As I write this on Dec. 14, we are finalizing our analysis of Mississippi official variety trials and on-farm variety trials. We have noticed some three-gene Bt varieties are performing really well. However, based on trends we have seen in the past, just because a “new variety” performed well one year, it doesn’t mean it will perform well every year.

Variety selection is a time-consuming process that will affect the grower for the entire season. I think it is wise to consider variety selection from a couple different stand points.

First, consider “new versus old” varieties, which allows the grower to not only plant a variety we know will perform well, but also start moving in the direction of learning toward newer varieties. Today, most cotton varieties do not have a long shelf-life.

Second, consider dryland versus irrigated to see how well our newer varieties performed under these agronomic practices.

Third, look at region and soil texture because we have seen a lot of variation in varietal performance across these two factors.
Based on all the previously mentioned points to consider, the main idea is to plant multiple varieties that have performed well and match this to your agronomic practices, region and soil texture. There is always a peace of mind that comes with doing your homework and planting what you consider to be a “good mix” of varieties for your operation.

Visit https://bit.ly/3ns28QF to view MSU’s on-farm county demonstration and OVT results. Finally, I would like to wish you a happy and prosperous New Year! bkp4@msstate.edu

Guy Collins, North Carolina

Guy Collins,
North Carolina

This year has had its share of challenges, as every year does, but 2020 didn’t seem to let up on us. In short, we had the most challenging planting season in a long time, followed by intense heat and drought throughout July in many of our predominate cotton areas.

August brought badly needed rains, allowing us to develop a strong top crop, although September and early October were abnormally cooler when we really needed substantial heat unit accumulation to mature the top crop.

Yields are anywhere from low to acceptable, depending on many factors. There have been very few reports of noticeably high yields.

We did experience some heat unit accumulation in late October, and a somewhat late frost, both of which helped open bolls. Boll opening was surprisingly better than anticipated, albeit slower than normal.

Although yields are relatively lower, we have had some exceptional quality, with many incidences of micronaire and staple within the premium range. We also have some very good color and leaf grades.

Additionally, despite a challenging year, we were able to successfully complete another year of the North Carolina On-Farm Cotton Variety Evaluation Program and NCSU Official Variety Trials. There were several varieties within the top-yielding group that displayed a high degree of yield stability.

These varieties represented several different germplasms, seed companies and technology packages. It is always good for the industry that multiple brands are competitive. This gives growers a wide array of choices, many of which can be matched to various soil types or production systems.

planting cotton seedJanuary will kick off the 2021 meeting season, and there will be many opportunities for growers to see and hear the latest research results and recommendations for the coming crop. The NCSU Extension cotton county meetings will be listed on the NCSU Cotton Portal website (https://cotton.ces.ncsu.edu/) under “Events” or by contacting your local county agent.

The results of the NC On-Farm Cotton Variety Evaluation Program and NCSU OVT will be available in the NCSU Cotton Variety Performance Calculator (https://trials.ces.ncsu.edu/cotton/). We will discuss these during our winter meetings.

Additionally, we will be talking about the NCDA Cotton Seed Quality Testing Program that was successfully launched in 2020 and will continue to have substantial impact in future seasons. guy_collins@ncsu.edu

Tyson Raper, Tennessee

Tyson Raper,
Tennessee

Tis the season to thumb through fiber quality data and wonder, “What does this all mean, again?” Over the years, I’ve noticed a wide range in the level of understanding of fiber development, the classification process, and what role our decisions make on realized fiber quality.

While some within the industry can determine leaf, staple and color from the turn-row in a split second, others may not understand why their cotton “high-miced.” There have been several publications over the years I’ve found to be particularly efficient and effective in explaining fiber quality.

“The Classification of Cotton,” developed by Cotton Incorporated, is one of those publications. It does an excellent job describing the history and process of classification and touches on the role of environment and variety on each parameter.

The old “Physiology Today Series,” as you might expect, tackled the subject several times. Another excellent document I highly recommend reviewing is “How to Think about Fiber Quality in Cotton” by Steve Brown and Tyler Sandlin. This publication does an excellent job of explaining fiber development from an agronomists’ standpoint.

You can find these publications by searching online or reviewing a recent blog post of mine that highlights each of these in greater detail (news.utcrops.com). Happy New Year! traper@utk.edu

Seth Byrd, Oklahoma

Seth Byrd,
Oklahoma

There’s always an opportunity for reflection at the end of every season — a chance to look back at what went right and what went wrong and what to consider for upcoming years. Variety performance is always at the top of the list when reviewing the previous production year.

While the 2020 season was favorable overall, there were three distinct periods that offered challenges to the crop. How varieties responded to these conditions may provide guidance when selecting for certain characteristics in the future.

For dryland specifically, the hot and dry August challenged varieties that may have gotten off to a slow start and didn’t have vigorous early season growth. Evaluating a variety’s ability to respond to these harsh conditions during peak bloom and boll fill periods allows producers to determine which ones may have a good fit for dryland or on their “tough acres.”

The ability to retain fruit and mature early was favored due to a cold snap in early September. While it doesn’t appear to be widespread yet, there have been some instances of low micronaire, indicative of immature fiber, despite cotton being fully open and appearing to be mature at harvest.

For many parts of Oklahoma, maturity is a key factor to consider when selecting a variety due to unpredictable temperature swings in the fall. 2020 offered an extreme example that can be used to select varieties based on earliness for northern portions of the state.

A third factor that is typically considered in variety selection in many parts of the southwest is storm tolerance or boll type.

The variations in varieties were on full display in 2020 due to an ice storm that struck the state in late October. String out and fall out differences between varieties were evident. While we hope to avoid ice storms with open cotton in the future, wind and rain are always a concern. 2020 offered the chance to evaluate storm tolerance in a near worse-case scenario.

While yield and fiber quality are typically — and should be — the top priorities, other variety characteristics were challenged in 2020. These can be used to further narrow down variety selections and help with variety placement.

Look for the results of our on-farm variety trials (RACE trials) to come out soon. For more information on these trials, contact your local county Extension office or visit cotton.okstate.edu or ntokcotton.org. seth.byrd@okstate.edu

ben mcknight

Ben McKnight,
Texas A&M

Looking back on the 2020 growing season, I am sure everyone can agree this past year has been full of many challenges. As I write this in mid-December, much of the 2020 season is rapidly coming to a close in Texas for those who haven’t already wrapped up.

Currently, the drought monitor doesn’t look good for much of the state with the majority of Texas in moderate to severe drought. Some relief came to Central Texas and the Upper Gulf Coast recently, but much rainfall is needed to replenish subsoil moisture ahead of planting this year’s cotton. Despite the continuing challenges as we close the books on 2020, I remain optimistic for the 2021 growing season.

Now is the time we start thinking ahead to the upcoming season and making decisions. Variety selection is perhaps the single most important decision made the entire year because so much is determined when the choice is made. In addition to yield and quality characteristics, the selection of a variety determines what our pest control programs are going to look like.

Varieties that have enhanced resistance to bacterial blight should be strongly considered in fields with a history of the pest. Weed resistance might require us to shift our weed control programs to combat resistance. This can also affect our variety decisions.

Resistance to once-viable traits and the costs associated with chemical applications for insects may influence the type of insect traits we would like in a variety.

There are many management decisions based on the single choice of variety selection. In addition to yield potential and fiber quality, the task of arriving at the right decision might seem overwhelming. Results from variety testing can often answer many of the questions regarding variety performance and serve as a great resource to help in the decision-making process.

The South, Central and East Texas cotton variety results were posted in mid-December and contain the results from 20-plus on-farm variety trials. These results, along with data from the Rolling Plains, High Plains and West Central Texas variety trials, can be found at cotton.tamu.edu. I highly encourage growers to use these resources to assist in the selection process for the 2021 growing season. bmcknight@tamu.edu

Murilo Maeda

Murilo Maeda
Texas A&M

I hope you all had a great Christmas break! As we welcome the new year, I wanted to remind you that this is a good time to get soil samples and start planning for next season.

I know we are still at least a few months from planting, but that is exactly the point. Make sure you are adjusting fertility plans according to realistic yield goals.

Variety trials have been harvested and fiber quality data should start coming in soon. Stay tuned for the final RACE trial report for the Southern High Plains, as well as the Panhandle, to be out sometime later in January.

When that happens, the report will be made available online at our variety testing website (http://varietytesting.tamu.edu/cotton/).

Looking forward to our regional Extension meetings, 2021 will be a very different year. While we will certainly continue to bring you updated information, most (if not all) of our meetings will be virtual this year because of restrictions on travel, crowd size, etc.

We understand there are challenges that accompany these virtual events, but given the current situation, we are doing our best to adapt. Planning for the meetings is underway. I encourage you to reach out to your county agent if there is any specific topic(s) you would like covered. We look forward to a productive year. mmaeda@ag.tamu.edu