Cotton Incorporated and land-grant universities are beginning a new on-farm testing program aimed at helping fill the “knowledge gap” on new cotton variety releases.

The new program was introduced at CI’s Crop Management Seminar in Tunica, Miss., today. University Extension specialists outlining the program said research shows planting the wrong variety can cost cotton producers up to $277 an acre.

“Many of the new varieties are coming on the market without any prior testing through the university system,” said Cotton Incorporated’s Robert L. Nichols. “Growers often don’t know how a variety will perform in their areas until they plant it.”

The program is being managed by the Extension cotton specialists in the cotton-producing states. But the trials are conducted on growers’ farms, using the growers’ management techniques.

“Variety selection has been identified as a key issue by cotton growers throughout the United States,” said Darrin Dodds, Extension cotton specialist with Mississippi State University. “The days of having three years of data before a variety comes on the market are over.”

Dodds, chairman of the Extension specialists working group, said that what’s lacking in the new environment is how to manage the variety once it becomes available to a grower compared to what occurred in the past.

“In the 1970s, one of the most widely grown varieties was Stoneville 213,” he said. “I looked at the records, and that variety was grown in the Mid-South for about 25 years. If you didn’t learn how to manage that variety, you probably were in trouble. Later, Deltapine 555 was available about eight years or a third of the time 213 was around.”

Besides learning how to manage varieties, growers need to know how to position the new varieties, said Guy Collins, Extension cotton specialist with the University of Georgia. They need to know if the variety should be planted on irrigated ground, how much plant growth regulator should be applied, when it should be ready for defoliation.

“The small-plot official variety trials or OVTs that we’ve conducted in the past allow you to compare a large number of varieties, but most growers need to know how to manage a smaller number of varieties that are adapted for their region,” said Collins.

The number of varieties being tested will vary widely within regions. The Southeast and Delta included from six to nine varieties in their testing and the Southwest 30 to 31 varieties in 2012, the researchers said.