Variety selection is one of the most important decisions for modern cotton farmers in the Rolling Plains of North Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, says an Oklahoma State University agronomist.

"Selecting productive cotton varieties is not an easy task, especially in Oklahoma where weather can literally make or break a crop,” says Dr. Randy Boman, Oklahoma State University Research Director and Cotton Extension Program Leader located at the OSU Southwest Research and Extension Center near Altus, Okla.

“Producers need to do their homework by comparing characteristics of many different varieties and then key these attributes to typical growing conditions,” he says.

Boman says growers can't control growing conditions from year to year, but they can select varieties based on desired attributes. “It is very important to select and plant varieties that fit specific fields on your operation. Don't plant the farm to a single variety but try relatively small acreages of new ones before extensive planting.

He recommends multi-year and multi-site performance averages when available to evaluate prospective varieties. “However, due to the rate of varietal release, many new varieties have not undergone multi-year university testing or perhaps no university testing at all.”

Results from last year’s variety trials, which were “gutted by the Great Drought, are available in the 2011 Extension Cotton Project Annual Report available at the NTOK Cotton (www.ntokcotton.org) website.

“Because of the tough year in 2011, it will be important to investigate variety performance in prior years,” Boman says. Results from 2010, for instance, include summaries for dryland and irrigated locations. “This is an excellent resource and provides much information on variety performance, including yield, lint turnout and fiber quality. Individual site data as well as the nine-location means for dryland and the seven location means for irrigated sites are included.”

Boman says Oklahoma cotton growers should consider several factors when selecting varieties.

Relative maturity rankings (provided by seed companies) will be beneficial. “Don't expect a full-season cotton variety to perform well in a short-season environment where an early or early-mid maturity variety might work best. Longer-season varieties will typically do much better when planted earlier and then provided an excellent finish. In recent years these have performed well in many dryland situations in the southwestern corner of the state.”

Early-mid maturity varieties may be better for later plantings, and for late plantings or replant situations, early maturity varieties may be a better option.