Cotton farmers have identified six issues as top production concerns with input costs topping the list followed by 2) herbicide resistant weeds, 3)variety selection, 4)variety tolerance to heat and drought, 5)early weed control and 6)seedling vigor and 6)cottonseed value (tied for sixth).
Cotton Incorporated research efforts are addressing those concerns, as well as others, says Kater Hake, vice president, agricultural and environmental research for Cotton Incorporated, Cary, N.C.
Hake discussed Cotton Incorporated’s research goals during the recent Concho Valley Cotton Conference in San Angelo. He also commented on cotton farmers’ incredible efforts in making decent yields through two devastating droughts and heat waves.
“For more than half of the United States, 2012 was either the hottest or the second hottest year on record,” Hake said. “In Texas, it was the hottest. With that heat, the yield made in Texas last year is truly remarkable.”
The key to that success, he said, in Texas and across the Cotton Belt, was the “expertise of farmers and the tools available” to them. Cotton Incorporated research helps provide many of those tools. Agricultural research is number two on the CI list of funding priorities, behind promotion, “but funding for research has increased significantly,” he said.
Yield increase is a critical focus and efforts include the top six farmer concerns. “We attempt to leverage available funds to the hilt,” Hake said. That includes making research results readily available to farmers. “We have recently posted our first item on the plant management network (plantmanagementnetwork.org). Fusarium is the first item, posted in a focus on cotton.”
He said an irrigation guide also has been developed for “the humid regions of the Mid-South and Southeast,” to help producers understand cotton irrigation demand. “We’re also looking at the value of soil organic matter and conservation tillage. Those efforts are being driven by the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service.
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Soil organic matter and conservation tillage, he said, offer producers several advantages, including: increasing water infiltration by protecting the soil surface from high energy rain drops and keeping macro pores open to capture intense rainfall. Conservation tillage also helps reduce soil surface evaporation and promotes root growth near the soil surface. The practice also “slightly increases” water holding capacity and may expand root growth.
Managing glyphosate resistant weeds has been a challenging undertaking, Hake said, but industry, universities and growers have made progress. “We had a huge effort in the Mid-South and the Southeast and by 2012 the area was relatively clean. However, now some 40 percent of High Plains cotton fields have glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth. But we know we have the tools available to control it.”
Hake said nematode management will be another key area of concern. “Recent sequencing of the cotton plant genome offers a useful tool to improve plants.”
Sustainability throughout the cotton production cycle—from field to fabric and other products made from cotton—is a key issue for Cotton Incorporated as it answers charges that cotton is not an environmentally friendly crop. “The anti-cotton forces are engaging with consumers,” he said.
Water issues huge
Water will be a key issue in cotton and textiles. Claims that cotton caused the Dust Bowl and other disasters are not based on fact, he said. “We have been attacked for water loss through evaporation. In fact, we can show that for the last 30 years we have seen a vast improvement in water efficiency with cotton. The footprint of cotton production is steadily decreasing. Soil erosion and land use are both down. And we use 75 percent less irrigation water. But water metrics will remain a battlefield.”
Hake said level of irrigation will be a key to cotton water use. In much of West Texas, irrigation is supplemental to a typical 10-inch total annual rainfall. Irrigating to 20 inches may not always be possible with stricter water-use limitations. More water-efficient varieties may offer a solution.
U.S. cotton production also has significantly reduced the amount of field labor required to make a crop. Current rate is 1 hour per acre per year to raise a cotton crop. In India, that rate is 570 hours per acre per year and in China it’s 985.
Fertilizer is another sustainability issue with concerns about manufacturing emissions and contamination to groundwater and streams.
The global ag industry is concerned about“global yield stagnation,” especially with corn and soybeans.
Cotton also plays a role in food production. “We get 1.4 pounds of food product for every 1 pound of fiber we produce,” he said. Cottonseed is used for livestock feed as well as for cooking oil for human consumption.
Recent development of flavored cottonseed oil shows promise of increased demand. “We are also promoting cottonseed for dairies and have developed a new marketing program.” That program links dairymen directly with cottonseed suppliers.
Hake said cottonseed prices have been penalized in relation to its value as a feed. “Targeted marketing has turned the tide,” he said.