Improving yield and quality remain top priorities for cottonseed research for the combined forces of Monsanto and Delta and Pine Land Co., but achieving those goals also includes adding new transgenic traits and identifying more stress tolerant varieties.
“For anything we do, we still look at yield and fiber quality,” says Dave Albers, cotton germplasm manager for Delta and Pine Land. “U.S. cotton farmers now grow for the world market and quality standards are higher. But growers still get paid for pounds so we want them to produce pounds of high quality cotton.”
Albers says the immediate goal is to continue improving germplasm for the second generation of transgenic traits, Roundup Ready Flex and Bollgard II. “We have an opportunity for now and to develop a platform for the next generation of traits.”
New traits will come from several approaches. “We have a germplasm group working with a water use group, for instance,” Albers says. “They do the same kind of testing to identify the best drought tolerant gene.”
He says a variety with more efficient water use will perform better under irrigation and will exhibit a better yield response under stress. “This will be a huge benefit to growers. We will have a broader base of tests across various environments and regions. Utilizing this testing platform and advances in our molecular breeding program we hope to identify lines that handle tough environmental conditions better.”
Albers says researchers rely on new technology to “quantify stress tolerance. We have new probes and other techniques.”
Albers says more drought tolerant varieties will produce more bolls on key fruiting positions. He says the process is streamlined by several specialized groups working together.
Conventional breeding remains an integral part of the process. “That’s the basis of a stronger platform,” he says. But he does not expect conventional varieties to move the market, “because sales are low.
“Customers (who want conventional varieties) have to order two years ahead. If they want them for 2010, they need to order them now so we can plan production. Our goal is to demonstrate the value of technology.”
He says getting new varieties in the ground and through the processing system is a key. Cotton processed through a micro-gin, for instance, may not demonstrate quality characteristics as realistically as in a commercial gin. “The micro-gin is a good tool, but real gins tweak (settings) so results may differ.
“We’re trying to get new varieties in the hands of growers and have them figure out how to make them work. We have an aggressive program to get growers great exposure to our new products.”
“Monsanto is committed to cotton,” says Eric Cerny, cotton drought tolerance manager for Monsanto. “The next five to 10 years will be exciting. We recognize the challenges and are putting resources into meeting them.”
The process takes time, says Ty Witten, biotech cotton trait development lead for Monsanto. “Monsanto is moving aggressively with dicamba resistant lines.” He says the goal is to develop a variety tolerant to dicamba, glufosinate (Ignite or Liberty) and Roundup Ready Flex. This next generation of herbicide tolerance is being tested in the field for tolerance, efficacy and agronomics.
Monsanto also is working on Bollgard III gene technology that will be resistant to foliar feeding insects. Also planned are stacked varieties of the three-way herbicide tolerance and enhanced insect resistance.