Variety Selection Critical For Success

Randy Norton
Randy Norton

With the challenges of 2019 behind us, I am sure this year in cotton production will be one we will not want to revisit any time soon. For most cotton producers across the state, it was one of lower-than- average yields, fiber quality issues that included some short staple and a complicated harvest with fall rains about once a week from late October through mid-December.

The production problems have been accompanied by low cotton prices, all of which has had a tremendous impact on the bottom line of many producers across the state. As we contemplate the 2020 season and where to place resources, it is important to look critically at every input made into the crop to ensure it will provide a positive return on investment.

Increasing the efficiency of our production practices will be critical in the upcoming year to maintain the economic viability of our industry. Every aspect of production must be evaluated from variety selection, fertility management, pest management an irrigation management to general crop management to see where improvements can be made to increase the overall efficiency and sustainability of our operations.

These topics along with others will be covered in a series of preseason cotton management meetings that will be conducted across Arizona during January and February. I encourage you to attend these meetings sponsored by the University of Arizona where the latest information on topics related to cotton management will be discussed.

A calendar of events, meetings and educational opportunities is kept on the ACIS website ( Consult it regularly to keep up to date with meetings and events.

STEVE BROWN, alabama
Steve Brown

Everyone understands why variety selection is so important. Among the reasons are the cost of seed, the narrowing of pest management options, the presumed determination of yield potential and the lack of opportunity for a post-plant correction. A few questions provide a beginning funnel for these decisions.

• Does yield drive everything? Or do certain qualifiers constrain choices?

• Can I manage multiple technologies, or is it imperative that all acres have the same herbicide trait package?

• Do I need to “play defense” with herbicide technology based on my neighbors’ cropping systems?

• Should my portfolio be limited to three-gene Bt varieties?

• Are nematode-resistant varieties a good choice for me?

• With an offer of a “deal,” is it one that truly helps the bottom line or is it simply a bad deal?

• Does a financial, contractual or personal obligation influence alternatives?

• Should previous stand establishment issues factor into decisions?

• Have past experiences — good and bad — with fiber quality been significant enough to steer me to or away from certain varieties?

I came across an old presentation with a slide titled, “The Tried and True.” Its points: Give me data. Give me local experience. Give me on-farm experience. Over time, years, environment.

Another slide pictured a basket with cotton overflowing and made the classic point, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Simple, straightforward questions and principles to guide plans for 2020.

David Wright, Florida
David Wright,

Many of our county variety trials in Florida had higher yields than expected. Each year, the first thing a grower wants to know (after price) is what varieties I should plant.

Yield stability across regions is a good way to look at varieties. Did the variety rank near the top of all trials in both low- and high-yielding environments?

This is an important characteristic as each field has low-, mid- and high-yielding zones. Most fields are managed in the same way with the same plant population, fertilizer, herbicides, etc., so using varieties that do well in all locations should be considered.

Our recent research of planting cotton after winter grazing with resulting higher yields (often 150-400 pounds per acre lint higher yield) works with any variety and often masks the weak places in the field. Less nitrogen can be used, and the crop can go seven to 10 days longer without irrigation due to enhanced rooting of the cotton crop from grazing cattle prior to planting.

If the opportunity arises to plant cotton on a small field after winter grazing, consider trying it for the yield and input benefits.

Dan Fromme, Louisiana
Dan Fromme,

Choosing cotton varieties can be difficult, and the availability of different transgenic traits often complicates the process. It is advantageous to have as much information on a variety to help make a more informed decision pertaining to variety selection.

assist in this decision-making process, the LSU AgCenter annually conducts official variety trials at the Red River Research Station, Bossier City; Dean Lee Research Station, Alexandria; Macon Ridge Research Station, Winnsboro; and Northeast Research Station, St. Joseph. This past year, 47 cotton varieties were evaluated at these locations.

In addition to the official cotton variety trials, 10 on-farm cotton variety trials were conducted with growers throughout the state. The objective of both the official variety trials and the on-farm trials is to provide as much information as possible concerning a cotton variety’s performance over a range of soil textures and growing conditions.

As the new season approaches, variety selection is a key component in the planning process for the upcoming year, and now is an excellent time to review past year’s results. Review as many public and private company tests as possible in your area before making a variety decision.

Results for the 2019 LSU AgCenter cotton variety trials are located at They can be found by clicking on topics>crops>cotton>varieties. Best of luck in 2020!

Calvin Meeks, Missouri
Calvin Meeks,

Growers in the Missouri Bootheel are likely evaluating yields and grades of the varieties they used in 2019 to make variety selection decisions for 2020. I encourage producers to make sure they consider as much information as possible by taking a look at data statewide and not relying solely on what happened on their farm in 2019.

I believe we tend to overreact to what happened in the previous year since hindsight is 20/20. Using results from multiple locations helps to select varieties that have high yield stability. This allows a producer to select a variety that is widely adapted to potential conditions for 2020.

I encourage producers to consider the results from the Missouri official variety trials, which are available at Yields were quite good with numerous varieties breaking 2,000 pounds per ace in some of the locations. Consider the locations nearest to your area to help determine variety selection while also considering yield stability across multiple environments.

round bales, forrest city, arkansas
The fruits of harvest are all wrapped up for the holidays near Forrest City, Arkansas — photo by Vicky Boyd

The preliminary data sets without fiber quality are currently posted for all of the 2019 locations. Pay close attention to the stability across all environments and across irrigated environments data summaries to help determine the most stable varieties for your farm. I also encourage the practice of multiple planting dates while using multiple varieties and maturities to help manage your risk.

It would also be prudent to consider results from previous years to help determine the best varieties for your farm in 2020.

Furthermore, also note that the Bollgard 2 traits will be phased out in the near future.

Please attend the 2020 Regional Missouri Cotton Meeting at the Fisher Delta Research Center Jan. 22. The agenda is posted at

Variety selection will be one of the topics covered. For further information about the conference, email me at or call 573-379-5431.

Guy Collins, North Carolina
Guy Collins,
North Carolina

I think most North Carolina growers were both surprised and pleased with this year’s crop. Some areas that didn’t receive timely summer rains naturally have lower yields, but these areas are very few. Most of our acreage was saved just in time by late summer rains, and it has shown in yields.

This year has also illustrated the significant influence that September and October weather can have on our crop. The dry, warm weather that occurred during this period in 2019 allowed us to avoid major losses to hard lock, boll rot, weathering losses of lint, etc. Additionally, we are seeing more 11, 21, and 31 color grades than we have had in several years.

January kicks off the 2020 meetings, and there will be many opportunities for growers to hear the latest research results and recommendations for the coming season. As I write this on Dec. 2, the North Carolina State University Extension cotton county meetings are now listed on the NCSU cotton portal website ( under “Events.”

The results of the North Carolina On-Farm Cotton Variety Evaluation Program and NCSU Official Variety Trials are also being loaded into the NCSU Cotton Variety Performance Calculator ( and will be discussed during our winter meetings.

Additionally, we will be talking about the new pilot program for North Carolina Department of Agriculture’s cotton seed quality testing program for 2020 that will address one of our major production challenges in recent years.

Seth Byrd, Oklahoma
Seth Byrd,

Cotton harvest will likely be over or nearly there by the time this issue of Cotton Farming reaches you. Early returns on the 2019 crop are good but disappointing.

While visually much of the crop had recovered from unfavorable May and June conditions and heat unit accumulations in August and September were above average, it’s apparent that yields are falling short of expectations. It’s likely the slow start coupled with seed issues and high temperatures in the late summer contributed to the mediocre yields many are experiencing, at least compared to their expectations entering October.

Results from our on-farm variety trials will be a good resource for comparing variety performance in the roller coaster 2019 production season. These will be made available at, and through your local Extension office.

Variety information as well as results of other agronomic cotton trials will be presented at production meetings. These include the Red River Crops Conference, Jan. 22-23, Altus, Oklahoma; Great Plains Cotton Conference, Feb. 25-26, Wichita, Kansas; and the Oklahoma Panhandle Spring Conference, likely in late February or early March in Goodwell, Oklahoma.

Tyson Raper, Tennessee
Tyson Raper,

While 2020 will see several “new” varieties introduced to the market, the factors driving variety selection for 2020 will be very similar to 2019. You will likely hear several of my colleagues discuss Bt traits over the winter months. I would encourage you to listen very closely to their comments.

We are just beginning to analyze data in Tennessee as I write this on Dec. 3, but several of our two-gene Bt varieties have again proven their place on a portion of the acres. It is clear there are some three-gene Bt varieties that can perform at a similar level to our go-to two-gene Bt varieties, but we are still getting to know these “new” products.

This leads me to discuss the number of varieties you should plant and how many of those should be new versus old. Instead of providing specific numbers or ratios, I think it is more appropriate to consider the reason for such recommendations. First, over time, new varieties outperform the old ones. Sure, there are exceptions. Occasionally, a new variety fails to perform, or the stars align behind an old variety.

But eventually, even the best “old” line will fall. I, for one, don’t like betting against our cotton breeders. Eventually, they will find and advance a line that outperforms even the best variety. Second, varieties — new or old — sometimes flop. The reasons for the flop vary, but it happens.

The take-home message is to plant numerous varieties. Plant some you know well, some you are getting to know, and a few you don’t know well at all. Having a good mix on number of varieties and new versus old balances risk and reward.
You’ll be less likely to take a big hit from a variety that flops, but you’ll be at the table if a new variety knocks it out of the park.
Keep an eye on for the Tennessee cotton variety trial results. Happy New Year!

Murilo Maeda
Murilo Maeda
Texas A&M

In early December as I write this, many growers in the northern regions of the state are wrapping up the 2019 harvest. There are still a few fields out there, but with good open weather, most of the region should be done with harvest by the time you receive this issue of Cotton Farming the first of the year.

AgriLife Extension is also working to finish harvesting its large replicated trials and compile results for the whole state. They will be made available by region, at:

As of the first week in December, about 1.53 million bales have been through the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Marketing Service classing office in Lubbock. For the season, color grades have been mainly 21s and 22s, average staple is 35, average micronaire is 4.38, average strength is 30.5 and average uniformity is 80.6.

While 2019 brought with it many challenges, this is a good time to start planning for the coming season as we get things wrapped up. Cover crops, soil sampling, variety selection, as well as fertility and herbicide programs are all factors that should all be considered as they will ultimately have a big impact on your operations.

If (and that’s a big if) no big changes in the market occur this coming season, we will need to watch input costs very carefully. It would be advisable to have a best-case scenario plan in case things look good (market, weather, etc.), but also a plan B just in case you need it.

The first of the year also marks the beginning of our regional/county meetings. AgriLife research and Extension personnel will be traveling across the state to deliver updated information on lessons learned this past season.

While planning for many of these meetings has already started, I encourage you to reach out to us or your local county agent with any topics you may be interested in hearing about. Also, many of these meetings already have a date, so please check with your local Extension office and make plans to attend. We look forward to seeing and visiting with you in one of our meetings.

Bill Robertson, Arkansas
Bill Robertson,

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 ones with new technologies worthy of a look.

Planting recommendations state that roughly two-thirds of your acres be planted with varieties that are proven on your farm.

Of the remaining acres, limit new varieties to no more than 10% of your total acreage. The remaining 25% should be dedicated to those varieties in which you have limited experience. This strategy provides stability while allowing for evaluation of the new ones.

In 2019, many producers lowered seeding rates and nitrogen fertility rates. Results were very positive, especially with varieties that possess strong growth characteristics. In 2020, farmers are encouraged to continue these practices as well as implementing a plan that will help them get a picker in the field by Sept. 15 to complete harvest by our target date of Nov. 1.

There are a number of unbiased information sources available to assist in selecting new varieties. Our primary source is the University Variety Testing program conducted by Dr. Fred Bourland. County demonstrations are another good source. Find results at

Contact your local county Extension agent for assistance in obtaining or interpreting variety performance data and to get the date and location of upcoming county production meetings for your county.

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