About this time each year, Southwest cotton specialists remind farmers that the most important decision they will make for the coming cotton crop is determining which varieties to plant.

It’s just as true this year as ever, says Texas AgriLife Extension Cotton Specialist Mark Kelley, located at the Lubbock Research and Extension Center.

Kelley discussed last summer’s variety trials at the South Plains Ag Conference and Trade Show at Brownfield. One of his most pertinent recommendations is for farmers to look at more than one year’s data when selecting a new variety. This may be especially important after the last two years, when even the best varieties often struggled to make a crop.

Gaylon Morgan, Texas AgriLife Extension state cotton specialist, speaking at the annual Blacklands Income Growth (BIG) conference at Waco, said in-season management depends on the variety selected. “Variety selection dictates management for the rest of the year,” he says.

Both would like to see more favorable weather for 2013.

Last year was somewhat better for High Plains cotton, Kelley says. “We received 10.7 inches of rainfall in 2012 — that’s 7 inches less than the long-term average.” But it was better than 2011. “June and July rainfall helped with irrigation efforts.”

If growers only look at variety trials from the last two years, they could miss out on some new varieties that hold promise.

“We recommend farmers evaluate trials over multiple years and over multiple locations,” Kelley says. “We also suggest evaluating various irrigation methods and capacities, as well as dryland production. Look at information across multiple levels of irrigation.”

“We want to see consistency,” Morgan says. “We don’t like to see a variety that tops the list in one location and hits bottom at another; we need less variability than that. Growers should get as much information as possible from trials at multiple locations and over multiple years.”

Kelley also recommends growers pay close attention to descriptions of the sites where varieties are grown. Field conditions vary, and looking for sites similar to where the variety will be planted could be a key to success.