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Cotton: 4 Considerations For Variety Selection

Along with the warm sunny days over the past few weeks come spring fever and the itch to get seed in the ground. It could be with a bit more excitement if not in the face of declining commodity prices. Just last week, cotton prices hit a contract low as they briefly fell below 55 cents.

Don’t take this at face value, however, marketing loan benefits and fiber quality premiums give cotton the potential to surpass the expected returns of most all other commodities as reflected in these dryland crop budget numbers compiled by averaging both Alabama and Georgia estimates.

Still, with these tight margins we must remain conscious of the need to justify every dollar spent while careful not to limit yields by skipping inputs. In this month’s Turnrow we will take a closer look at some of these production decisions.

Variety Selection

The high front-end loaded cost associated with seed and technology make variety selection one of the most important decisions you will make all season. Lest we not forget the surest way out of this price – cost dilemma is through yield and quality, we must choose varieties that excel in delivering both. In the past, the market simply wouldn’t pay enough for quality to make up for yield differences.

Today, however, varieties are available which are superior in both yield and quality eliminating the need to sacrifice.

Other selection criteria include:

1. Transgenic Traits – The specific transgenic traits needed will vary from field to field depending mainly on weed pressure and the presence of resistance. Bollgard 2 and WideStrike offer excellent worm control with the latter somewhat more effective on Fall Armyworms.

The herbicide tolerant traits of transgenic varieties warrant the most attention from growers, especially with the increasing resistance of some weed species to glyphosate. LibertyLink varieties, which are tolerant to Liberty herbicide and glufosinate, offer an effective alternative to control such weeds.

Two other technologies that will greatly help with this problem is Monsanto’s Bollgard Extended Flex with tolerance to dicamba and glufosinate  and Dow’s Enlist with tolerance to 2,4,D and glufosinate.

The seed and technology of these have been approved by EPA and are available for planting. However, at this writing, the approval of the spray formulations is still pending.

2. Maturity – Cotton varieties fall into 3 maturity groups; early, mid and full season. Early varieties start fruiting at a lower node than those maturing later. Full season varieties have normally been associated with greater drought tolerance and better fiber quality.

I agree with this to an extent, but fortunately for us today’s early varieties are much more indeterminate in growth habits and some exhibit comparable fiber quality to those later maturing.

3. Fiber Quality – The past few years we have seen the cotton prices received by growers significantly affected by fiber quality. Fiber characteristics such as staple length and strength are largely influenced by genetics, thus vary greatly by variety.

Staple length (36 or better) is highly preferred among buyers followed by strength of 30 g/tx or better. In my recommended list, I have highlighted those varieties which have been shown to consistently deliver such fiber quality properties. Micronaire, on the other hand, is influenced by a combination of genetics and environment.

I recommend choosing varieties which consistently have a micronaire average in the mid-range of 4.2 to 4.6. Those on the high end of the range are more likely to be discounted if growing conditions become unfavorable.

4. Stability – Select from those varieties that have performed well across several different test locations and not just those nearby.

Such consistency is a good indicator of those with the ability to outperform under various environment and growing conditions. I prefer on farm test data to university trials because they are grown under more realistic conditions. Use University results to verify these findings.

(Source – http://www.farms.com/news/cotton-4-considerations-for-variety-selection-104904.aspx)

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