Southwest cotton farmers can choose from a number of new varieties as they prepare to plant the 2004 crop, and technology plays an important role in new offerings.

Seed companies also indicate growers will have options that provide improved quality characteristics without sacrificing yield.

Growers also have new options that smudge the traditional line between picker and stripper type cotton. New offerings include varieties that boast the storm-proof traits of typical stripper types but with maturity, yield and quality characteristics usually associated with picker cotton.

Below are reports from some of the leading players in the Southwest cottonseed industry.

AFD Seed

AFD Seed, in Littlefield, Texas, put about 80 percent of its focus on conventional varieties last year and 20 percent on technology.

“We'll flip flop that this year,” says Terry Thrash, CEO and General Manager. “That's the way the industry is headed.”

“We'll put a lot energy into AFD 3511 RR this year,” says Bo Downer, AFD head breeder for the United States and Costa Rica. “It's an early to intermediate variety with a good fiber package compared to both the older and new stripper types. Loan values have averaged from two to four cents better, compared to other stripper cotton varieties.”

Thrash says 3511 RR is a medium early maturing, storm resistant variety with an improved fiber package.

“Producers have been pleased with seed quality and vigor. Dryland, and late-planted irrigated performance has been exceptional.

AFD 3602 RR is a mid-season to early-season variety with good storm proof qualities, “but not quite as good as 3511. It has an excellent fiber package, 106 percent above the competition in field tests.”

Characteristics include: medium-full maturing, excellent fiber, and intermediate storm resistance.

“Seed block growers have been impressed with the variety's ability to yield with conventional picker varieties,” Thrash says. “The added benefit of Roundup Ready technology, along with ‘better than picker’ storm resistance, should prove invaluable to High Plains growers.”

AFD 3602 RR has shown excellent yields under drip and pivot irrigation. It also features improved fiber properties. Planting seed quantities will be limited in 2004.

Conventional varieties include AFD 2485. “This will be the third year out for 2485 and we call it ‘The Beast,’” Downer says. Average loan rate has been 55 cents.

He says 2485 is not a picker but is not exactly a stripper type either. “There is a gray line,” he says. “ Yield is very good and lint holds on very well. We've had no complaints about it falling out.”

“Demand for 2485 has been very good and we expect a lot will be planted this year,” Thrash says.

“We have a limited supply of 2428, which should be a strong variety on good land south of Lubbock,” Downer says. “It produces big bolls.”

Thrash says AFD Seed is a small company that “stresses high quality. We're well known in the Southern Plains but not for transgenic varieties. Our goal is to continue to focus on developing improved High Plains conventional cotton varieties for commercial release, as well as rapid movement towards Monsanto Technology based products.”

All-Tex Seed

All-Tex offers Excess RR in limited quantities in 2004. Cody Poag, assistant manager at All-Tex Seed in Levelland, Texas, says putting the length and strength associated with picker cotton varieties into storm-proof stripper types remains the independent seed company's primary goal.

‘We're also getting situated to introduce varieties with Bollgard II and Roundup Flex in 2006,” Poag says.

“With that in mind, we're having to watch inventory closely because the Bollgard and Roundup Ready varieties will go away when the new technology comes out.”

Poag says All-Tex will have a limited supply of Excess RR in 2004.

“Excess is an early maturing variety that works great in irrigated and dryland situations,” Poag says. “It has outstanding fiber qualities. Excess is storm-proof, moderately determinant and should work well in any planting situation.”

Fiber characteristics include: Micronaire 3.5 to 4.9; strength 25 to 28; staple 33 to 35.

All-Tex also has a conventional variety with excellent quality factors.

“We've had Top-Pick for some time but we did not push it until the pickers showed up.

Top-Pick is a medium maturing, high yielding, long staple, smooth leaf variety. Top-Pick has a history of outstanding fiber qualities and high loan rates. Top-Pick can be picked or stripped.”

Fiber characteristics include: Micronaire 3.5 to 4.9; strength 28 to 32; staple 34 to 37.

Stoneville

Stoneville, an Emergent Genetics brand, will have four new cotton varieties — two high quality/storm proof Roundup Ready varieties, a stacked Bollgard II variety, and a stacked medium maturity variety — for Southwest growers in 2004.

Stoneville's Texas Station Manager, Steve Calhoun, labels two new varieties, ST 1553R and ST 2448R unique. “We call them high quality, storm proof varieties rather than stripper varieties. They represent a new combination of traits that nobody has offered before: a storm proof type boll, outstanding quality fiber, and early maturity. That combination is unique to the industry.”

Additionally, both varieties include Roundup Ready technology.

Both ST 1553R and ST 2448R represent new germplasm developed by Calhoun at Stoneville's Idalou Research Station. Both varieties were developed especially for the Plains.

“ST 1553R and ST 2448R differ in maturity and fiber quality,” says Calhoun. “ST 2448R is early maturing like ST 2454R. However, ST 2448R has better fiber than ST 2454R and a whole lot better storm resistance. ST 1553R has even better fiber, and matures very early, about a week earlier than ST 2448R. ST 1553R is expected to perform well from Plainview north.

“ST 1553R and ST 2448R yield equal to or better than ST 2454R, especially in the northern areas. Their fiber quality is better than that of ST 2454R. They offer picker fiber quality in a storm proof boll type.

“Both varieties also offer excellent seedling vigor, especially important in our northern areas.”

Limited seed supplies of ST 1553R and ST 2448R are expected in 2004. Large quantities will be available in 2005.

This year, Stoneville also is launching its stacked Bollgard II variety, ST 4646B2R, which comes from the same germplasm as ST 4892BR. In addition to offering broad-spectrum worm control, ST 4646B2R shows excellent yield potential.

Also new for 2004 is ST 5242BR, a medium-maturity picker variety that stacks the Bollgard gene, to protect more bolls, with the weed control advantages of Roundup Ready. ST 5242BR offers growers exceptional yield potential, preferred fiber quality, semi-smooth leaf in a variety with broad area adaptation and excellent early season vigor.

Additionally, Stoneville ST 5599BR, which had a limited introduction in 2003, is a stacked Bollgard/Roundup Ready, medium maturity picker variety that has demonstrated outstanding yield potential, along with premium fiber qualities, excellent tolerance to the Fusarium/root knot nematode complex, and good seedling vigor. ST 5599BR has performed extremely well in the Southern High Plains of Texas, especially on the sandier soils south of Lubbock where root knot nematode has been tough on other varieties.

FiberMax goal

Cotton breeders have long pursued a critical quest to bring together all the best genes in cotton variety development, says Jane Dever, development manager for Bayer's FiberMax cottonseed program in Lubbock, Texas.

“We want varieties that combine early maturity, good fiber quality, technology traits, and good yields. We've had that, but not in the same package,” she said. Dever says varieties available for 2004 come a bit closer to that elusive benchmark.

FM 800BR, a variety adaptable to the Texas Coastal Bend area, “offers traits for the first time in a variety with the best fiber quality in the line.”

Dever said FM 800BR shows good water use efficiency and vigorous growth. “It yields very well in its area of adaptation and produces good yields across a wide range of conditions.

“This variety will compete well even under harsh conditions,” Dever said. “Availability will be good for the 2004 season.”

She said heavy worm pressure in the Coastal Bend last year may make FM 800BR a good option.

FM 960BR also offers good fiber quality. “It's improved in both length and strength over currently available short-season varieties,” Dever said. “Mic is not as low as FM 800BR but it is rarely in the discount range and doesn't low mic in the High Plains as often as some long season varieties do.”

Both FM 800BR and FM 960BR are also sold in picker-harvested areas.

“With picker type varieties it is important that we have a viable replant option with acceptable fiber qualities,” Dever said.

“For 2004, we'll have FM 5044RR and FM 5045BR, very good early season options that are determinant and storm proof. Quality is as good or better than any stripper variety. Length and strength, however, may not be as good as the picker types.”

Recent approval of the LibertyLink Cotton and Ignite herbicide system for cotton will add five new varieties to the FiberMax line.

FM 958LL is appropriate for the Texas High Plains and North Delta; FM 966LL is suited to the Southern Mid-South and Eastern Seaboard; FM 981LL is best for the Southeast; and FM 832LL is adapted to South Texas and the South Delta. FM 5035LL is an excellent early-maturing, storm-proof stripper variety for the Southern High Plains that will also provide a good replant option.

Dever said the approval of the LibertyLink Cotton system offers growers another herbicide option to improve weed control programs.

“We also plan to have high quality Bollgard II varieties with Roundup Ready technology available in 2004,” she said. FM 800B2R, FM 960B2R, FM 989B2R and FM 991B2R will be available in limited quantities to look at this year.

Dever said Bayer and FiberMax have a “strong commitment to stripper breeding programs for the Texas Southern Plains. Some of our parent plants provide a compact plant and good yield and quality characteristics.”

She said the program will incorporate the best Australian and other available germplasm with good yield and quality characteristics into improved varieties for the stripper-harvested areas of the Southwestern states.

D&PL

Rolling Plains Cotton farmers, from around Altus, Oklahoma, to San Angelo, Texas, have to overcome some pretty big obstacles every year to make a crop.

The area is usually dry and with extreme limitations on irrigation capabilities. Cotton often suffers severe damage from early-season hail and late-season storms that may rip lint from the bolls and leave ragged, discolored cotton prone to heavy market discounts.

“That's why we're trying to develop cotton varieties with the Rolling Plains conditions in mind,” says Gary Rea, Delta and Pine Land Company cotton breeder at Haskell, Texas.

“We have a diverse program and try to test everything D&PL has on the Rolling Plains. That includes all our stripper cotton, early to late, and all our picker cotton, also across all maturity groups.”

Those descriptions, stripper and picker, may not be as accurate as they once were, Rea says. “We're trying to get away from picker/stripper terminology and use something that better reflects how the varieties are used. Some varieties within the two classifications are getting so close it's difficult to differentiate them.”

Rea says stripper cotton may be described more accurately as a High Plains or dryland variety. Picker types may be labeled Mid-South or irrigated varieties. “Some varieties classified as stripper types produce lint quality that's as good as any picker variety,” he says. “That's what we want in our program, storm-proof cotton with high quality and good yield traits.”

He explains that different variety characteristics including disease, insect and drought tolerance also help boost yield. “Drought tolerance is important in this area. About 80 percent of the Rolling Plains cotton is dryland. All of these traits can be valuable economically.”

Rolling Plains acreage, including the Altus, Oklahoma, area, typically runs about 1.2 million.

Rea says the breeding effort is well underway but the long-term nature of the work means it will be a couple of years before varieties originating in the Rolling Plains are commercialized.

“We're only in our fourth year at this location,” he says, “so we're still in the early stage of development, but we do have two lines that were already in the pipeline. We're high on these two.”

Rea says one offers extremely good yield potential, even in dryland conditions. “Grades compare favorably to other good varieties in tests to date. I've never seen this variety's fiber length fall under one-inch, even in extremely hot, dry conditions,” he says.

The other variety offers good yield potential in either dryland or irrigated situations. “It's fairly storm-proof, a little looser than some stripper types but tighter than pickers.”

Rea also looks at resistance traits. “We're looking at bacterial blight and verticillium wilt. We don't inoculate and artificially select for resistance but when the disease naturally presents itself, we certainly select for disease tolerance,” he says. “Disease is not a major concern but does show up occasionally and we think it could be a problem.”

Rea says D&PL material goes all over the world for testing. “We see tests from Greece, Spain, Brazil and Australia, so we know how the varieties respond to a number of diseases.”

Roundup Flex and Bollgard II will be part of the breeding program, as well. “We have our own in-house technology now and we get technology from a number of other companies.”

Rea maintains 8,000 nursery plots in Haskell and nearly 10,000 yield-test plots from Altus to San Angelo. Four of those locations are irrigated; the other three are dryland.

“Dryland farms in the area have a tough go,” Rea says. “They need technology because worm pressure limits yield. But farmers also need rain at the right time or they make nothing. When farmers start making a little money again, they'll start adding technology to their operations.”

He thinks Bollgard will help. “We've seen a tremendous increase in yield with that technology,” he says.

Technology may be especially important to farms that rely on a monoculture.

Beltwide Cotton Genetics getting a foot in door

Beltwide Cotton Genetics, last year's new kid on the cottonseed block, will not offer a new variety this year but has added one of the industry's most respected scientists to the staff.

John Bradley, who worked with conservation tillage for years at the University of Tennessee and then for Monsanto, joined Beltwide Cotton Genetics this winter.

“We're excited to have John with us,” says Rick Rice, marketing and sales director for Beltwide Cotton Genetics.

Rice says Bradley will be instrumental in introducing new varieties in the next few years.

“We expect to offer varieties with Bollgard II and Roundup Flex by 2006.”

Those will be the first Bollgard varieties available carrying the Beltwide Cotton Genetics brand.

“We'd like to have a Bollgard cotton now,” Rice says, “but we prefer to wait and introduce the second generation product, along with Roundup Flex. We want to get the technology into the best varieties possible. We have a few promising things in the pipeline and look forward to getting these varieties in the market.”

Rice says the first year in the cottonseed business “was better than we expected. We sold close to 50,000 bags of seed. Folks in the industry suggested before we started that if we sold 10,000 we should consider it a successful year.”

Rice and company president Noal Lawhon say their next goal is “to grow the market. In West Texas we're introducing some new picker varieties into a stripper cotton market. So far, the response has been overwhelming.”

“We want to be a player all across the Cotton Belt,” Lawhon says, “but we don't want to become a large company. We see a tremendous opportunity for growth.”

“We can be lucky once,” Rice says. “Now, a lot of folks will watch us.”

Building customer loyalty played an important role in their launch year, he says. “We offered a replant option that allowed our customers to switch to other companies' varieties if we did not have a variety that fit for later planting. We had no real complaints and that's great for a new company.”

Beltwide Cotton Genetics offers three Roundup Ready varieties, BCG 24R, BCG 28R and BCG 30R and two conventional types, BCG 245 and BCG 295.

“We think we have some excellent choices for refugias,” Rice says. “Often, farmers don't plant refugia cotton on their best land and we believe we have some that will perform well, even on less than ideal acreage. That's a way we hope to get a foot in the door.”

Rice says the five Beltwide Cotton Genetics varieties provide good yield potential with exceptional quality characteristics.