In some ways, cotton farmers are burdened by an embarrassment of riches.

No, it’s not the current price that could cause them to wonder why they are so fortunate. And it’s not the huge yields they’ve made (or not) the past three years.

But they do have a plethora of varieties from which they can select the best option for specific fields.

“We are covered up with new varieties,” says Randy Boman, research director and cotton Extension program leader at Oklahoma State University’s  Southwest Research and Extension Center at Altus. “And we have good ones, with high production potential and high quality. The dilemma is which one to pick for a particular farm.”

Boman, speaking at the recent Red river Crops Conference at Altus, says more new selections will be available this year, or within the next two years, and will offer options such as multiple herbicide tolerance and improved insect resistance.

Cotton market outlook depends on China.

“More stacked trait varieties will be coming,” he says. These varieties will include tolerance to both glyphosate and glufosinate, as well as 2, 4-D or dicamba, in addition to offering better options for controlling various worm species. New generations of Bollgard, Widestrike and TwinLink are also on the horizon.

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The transition from conventional varieties to genetically modified cotton in Oklahoma is now complete, Boman says. “We’ve seen a significant change since 1995, the year before the first Bollgard Bt varieties were released. That year, we planted 100 percent conventional cotton varieties. Today, we plant zero conventional cotton — we are 100 percent transgenic.”

That breaks out to 95 percent Bt cotton varieties and 3 percent Widestrike. About 2 percent of cotton currently planted is Roundup Flex or GlyTol only. Producers are planting 98 percent stacked varieties —including both herbicide tolerant and insect resistant.

Unless regulatory issues arise, X-TendFlex technology that will include tolerance to glyphosate, glufosinate and dicamba will be available in 2015, he says. “In 2016, we expect to see our first Enlist cotton, which will be tolerant to 2,4-D, glyphosate and glufosinate. 

“Agronomic performance issues are critical” Boman says. “A transgenic trait doesn’t necessarily guarantee a profit.”

Producers should focus on production potential and also quality, he says. The benchmark has changed over the past decade or so. “The minimum standard now is 35 staple, 28 grams per Tex, 3.8 to 4.6 micronaire, 82 to 83 length uniformity, 31 color and 3 leaf. We can typically meet or exceed these fiber property goals with the genetics we now plant. However, in our area, we struggle with length uniformity, and sometimes bark contamination.”

Currently available varieties are providing excellent yield and quality, he says. ‘Some of the quality figures farmers are making now would have been unbelievable just a few years ago.”

Still, Boman says, variety selection remains one of the most important decisions a farmer makes every year, and making the best choice for specific conditions will be key to maintaining yield and quality goals.