"Yield potential is probably the single most important agronomic characteristic because pounds drive profitability and provide the safety net of higher actual production history (APH) in case of catastrophic loss. This crop insurance perspective is important in our high risk area.”

He says yield stability across environments is also important. “We want to find a variety that can provide high yield across varying water inputs.

Producers should also consider lint quality. “We have made a lot of progress in fiber quality over the last several years. Fiber length, also referred to as staple, is generally good to excellent for most new varieties. A lot of factors—overall environment; planting date; variety; early season fruit loss with later compensation; excessive late season irrigation or rainfall; seedling disease; early seasons setbacks due to hail damage, blowing sand, thrips and other factors—can affect crop micronaire, an indirect measure of fiber maturity and fineness.

“Fiber strength has also significantly improved and many newer varieties tend to be a least 30grams per tex. Length uniformity can be affected by staple, maturity, field weathering, and harvest method.”

Boman says picker harvested cotton quality is typically higher than stripper harvested cotton. “Higher maturity fiber generally results in better uniformity. Leaf grade can be affected by density of leaf hairs on specific varieties in some years. Generally, cool, wet fall conditions can lead to lower quality leaf grades for varieties that tend to be hairy. In drier harvesting environments these differences tend to diminish.”

Color grades depend primarily on field weathering or exposure of the mature fiber to warm, wet conditions. “The highest quality a cotton boll can have is on the day it opens,” Boman says. “After that, if conditions favor microbial growth (warm, wet conditions) or if an early freeze affects immature, unopened cotton, then color grade quality will likely be reduced.”

Environmental conditions also influence bark. "Bark contamination is generally driven by significant late season rainfall followed by a freeze. In some years, this can't be easily managed if stripper harvested. Conversely, picker harvesting can significantly reduce or eliminate bark contamination.

“Storm resistance is still a concern for growers in our area. Even though many producers have adopted cotton varieties with less storm resistance over the last several years and have generally done well with those, the producer’s overall management system can be important. Under significant moisture stress on dryland, some newer varieties may provide an unacceptable level of storm resistance, especially if the field is left to the freeze.”

Some producers may select varieties with less storm resistance if they improve harvest preparation.  “Producers planning to execute a sound harvest aid program as soon as the crop is mature can probably grow some fields of less storm resistant cotton,” Boman says. “However, having large acreages of varieties with low storm resistance might be a prescription for disaster if the right environmental conditions align near harvest. Do not plan to leave low storm resistance varieties in the field until a freeze conditions the plants for harvest. Unacceptable pre-harvest lint loss is likely to result.”

He says higher storm resistance varieties are better adapted to Oklahoma harvesting conditions and are more likely to survive damaging weather prior to harvest without considerable lint loss. “Inquire about the storm resistance of any variety on your potential planting list. If you choose a variety with low storm resistance, plan and budget for a good harvest aid program that will let you achieve an early harvest.”