Before you ever crank up the engine of your tractor or even pull out those trusty old rubber boots, you'll need to make the one decision that could potentially make or break your crop.

Your success in 2002 may well depend on the variety you choose to plant and the quality of that seed, according to Extension cotton specialist Will McCarty at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Miss.

McCarty, who spoke at the 2002 Delta Ag Expo in Cleveland, Miss., urges growers not to underestimate the importance of choosing the right variety of high-quality cottonseed for their farms.

“It all begins with the seed,” he said. “Ask your seed supplier for germination data, including cold germ data, and use that in your planting decision.

“Then, open that bag of cottonseed, and look for discoloration, broken seed, cracked seed coats, and just plain bad-looking seed. Call your seed dealer in those situations before you plant, so you can address the problem then, instead of waiting for stand establishment,” he said.

When it comes to choosing a cottonseed variety, he said, “There's nothing new out there that's going to blow everything else away.”

McCarty advises against planting the bulk of your crop into a variety you know little to nothing about. “Plant what you know, and try out any new varieties you are interested in on small acreage fields.”

To aid in your variety selection process, the folks with Mississippi State University have ranked the state's 2001 cotton variety trials by their potential economic return. The new rankings combine yield and quality data to determine a variety's net worth to the grower.

For the first time, “Loan Value per Acre” and “Net Loan Price” figures are being presented in addition to the yield and fiber quality properties reported in past state variety trial publications.

According to Extension agronomist John Creech at Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, Miss., the economic figures were determined using the 2001 Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) loan values. The “Net Loan Price” is the calculated loan value based on the fiber properties and color grade. The “Loan Value Per Acre” was calculated by multiplying the net loan price by the lint yield. “This value allows you to look at one figure that incorporates both yield and fiber quality,” he said.

“If the HIV fiber properties shown do not account for the net loan price given, assume that the color and leaf grade is responsible for the reduced net loan price,” Creech adds. “Color and leaf grade data are not figured in our report.”

“This new economic ranking of cotton varieties allows producers to look at both yield and value to determine variety selection,” McCarty said. “That's important because sometimes your highest yielding varieties may not be your highest-quality varieties.”

One example, McCarty said, is the stacked gene variety Paymaster PM1218BG/RR. “Most of Mississippi's cotton acreage is planted to this variety, but it tends to be discounted for high micronaire.”

In the 2001 Mississippi cotton variety trials, PM1218BG/RR yielded an average of 1,220 pounds per acre across several Delta locations, making it the fifth-highest-yielding variety. However, its quality measurement averages, including a 5.03 micronaire rating, result in a net loan price of $45.48 per 100 pounds, giving the variety a 42 quality ranking.

Combining both the quality and yield factors gives PM1218BG/RR an overall rank of 14 in the Mississippi Variety Trials for early-maturing cotton under Delta conditions.

“I know a lot of growers are talking about switching to conventional varieties this year, and we've got some good ones available to pick from. We've also got some good transgenic varieties to base your selections on,” McCarty said.

“Most of the time a Bollgard-Roundup Ready stacked-gene cotton variety is going to out-yield a Roundup Ready variety. We're not really sure why, but the straight Roundup Ready varieties in our tests and in others' tests have not performed as well as other varieties.”

dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com