Studying variety test results at least provides a means of narrowing the field, he says. “Variety testing was a major priority for cotton producers in a recent Cotton Incorporated survey of top concerns.” The top five items in that survey included input costs, herbicide-resistant weeds, variety selection, drought and heat tolerance and early weed control.

The middle three — and arguably all five — have at least some link to variety testing. Boman notes that Cotton Incorporated has also developed an enhanced variety testing program, in which they submit results to the Seed Matrix database to help producers select the best options.

“Our goal is to have a complete variety package to reduce production risks,” he says. “Three factors should be part of variety selection criteria — agronomy, pathology and entomology. Agronomic traits should mean good production potential across a large geography. Pathology considerations should include disease and nematode resistance. And entomology includes insect resistant traits— Bollgard II, Widestrike, TwinLink. All these should be part of the variety selection process.” Storm resistance is also a big deal in the Southwest.

OSU has two variety testing programs, Boman says: the Official Variety Tests, which consist of small plots of seed company varieties that are managed “by OSU personnel on our experiment station farms.”

The Extension Replicated Agronomic Cotton Evaluation (RACE) trials include large plots with cooperating growers, who manage the trials using their typical management parameters.

“We can’t say enough about our cooperators,” Boman says. “They typically lose productivity on variety plots, a sacrifice they make for the industry. It takes extra time and care to manage a RACE trial — my hat’s off to them.”

Some trials in the last few years have been limited, or in some cases wiped out, by devastating drought. “But we’ve still seen some entries that made well over 4 bales per acre,” Boman says. “We’ve also seen some upland cotton staple rated near 40. That’s incredible!”

That kind of quality, he says, “is one reason we’re selling so much cotton overseas.”

Variety trials also give growers a good idea of profit potential for a given variety, he says. “The difference in net value per acre between the variety at the bottom of our trials and the one at the top is typically more than $100.” Several varieties near the top of each trial may not be significantly different. “And we have some that perform well across a large geography.”

Disease resistance has become an increasingly important concern, Boman says. “We do have some Verticillium wilt in our state, but not a lot of Fusarium wilt and bacterial blight. We don’t have a fungicide we can spray over-the-top for wilt control.”  Genetics is the only, and best, answer.

“If you know you have a disease issue in a particular field, look at variety trials performed under the respective disease pressure to see what might perform well. These results are generated by the Texas A&M AgriLife plant pathologists at Lubbock.”

The key for variety selection, Boman says, lies in knowing field conditions, history, and management capabilities, and then studying variety trials to determine the best match for a particular field. “Farmers may have a lot of varieties to consider, but they also have many very good options, and many are arguably the best varieties we’ve ever been able to plant.” 


More on cotton and other Southwest crops:


Cotton stalk inspires first graders

Rotation, variety selection, timeliness are critical for SW high cotton…

Cotton market outlook