One chance. One chance with thousands and thousands of dollars on the line. Cotton farmers have one opportunity, before they have any clue of what kind of season they are likely to have—rainy, dry, colder than usual or hot as blazes—one shot at picking the right variety to mesh with whatever conditions come along during the long growing season.
David Drake, Texas AgriLife Extension agronomist at San Angelo, compared the decision-making process a cotton farmer goes through early in the year to a professional baseball manager who has 162 chances from April into October to switch things around and put the best team on the field. A coach for professional basketball or hockey has 80 opportunities to change his mind. College basketball skippers have 30 opportunities; the NFL gets 16—asssuming they don’t go to the playoffs—and NCAA football has 12 chances, unless they are fortunate enough to get into one of the 30 or so post-season bowl games. And even rock, paper scissors players usually go two out of three, Drake said.
But a cotton farmer has to decide, sometimes as early as January, what varieties are most likely to give him the best chance of making a decent yield and a profit. “A farmer has to make his pick early and be prepared for conditions in July and August, Drake said during the recent Concho Valley Cotton Conference in San Angelo.
“It’s an important decision,” Drake said. And farmers have a list of reasons why they choose one variety over another—some reasons better than others. Peer pressure may play a role. Tradition, planting what he’s planted for years, may be a factor. Also weighing in on the decision-making process is the relationship a farmer has with his seed dealer, favorable terms available from one company, performance—yield and quality—agronomic or system fits, and traits. A few other issues could affect variety choices as well.
But Drake says diversity should be part of the process. “Select and plant two or three different varieties. At a minimum, plant two that are familiar and maybe plant one new one to see how it performs.
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“Make certain the variety fits the system, including the equipment available and performance goals. Quality or a market producer may be a good choice. It’s becoming more and more important to plant what the consumer wants.”
Drake says if farmers wait three years, some decisions will be made for them. Older varieties will be retired as new ones come on board.
“Varieties change fast and the current ones may no longer be available within a few years.” Consequently, farmers must constantly update their knowledge of new options “to be able to make the best choices.”
Variety trials are important tools. “The best option is a trial on your own farm,” he said. “The next best is a trial on a field with similar soil, a similar season and similar moisture.” Replications, within the field and across several years, also add value to the trials. That’s currently a missing element for many Southwest dryland cotton farmers, Drake said. “We don’t have dryland variety trials for the past two years because of drought. We’re having to look back three years, and some of those varieties are no longer available.”
He recommends growers look at field trials with limited irrigation to fill in some information gaps. “A farmer may find something that fits dryland conditions.”
Farmers should pay attention to what they know about their own farms. “Particular varieties will perform better on specific farms. Find out what fits. It may not be the same variety your neighbor is using.”
Drake recommended farmers pay attention to Texas AgriLife “pick lists,” selections that have performed best in replicated trials. These lists are available for specific regions and growing regimes—irrigated and dryland.
Drake said the 2012 top picks for irrigated acreage in the Concho Valley area include: AM 1550 B2RF, ATX Epic RF, Croplan 3787 B2F, DP 1219 B2RF, DP 1359 B2RF, DP 0935 B2RF, FM 9170 B2F, FM 2484 B2RF, NG 1511 B2RF, PHY 499 WRF, ST 5458 B2F, and ST 4946 GLB2.