Cotton research at Oklahoma State University currently focuses on investigating cultural solutions to cotton production problems and evaluation of varieties.

OSU's cotton germplasm development program, begun in 1986, was terminated in 1993, says Laval Verhalen, professor in OSU's Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

“We had put years of time and effort into the program, and when the formal program ended, we had several things completed or nearing completion,” he says. “Though we have not started anything new since 1993, we have continued to work with the material we had as of that time. Within the next year, we'll be able to release some of those materials.”

When the germplasm development program ended, Verhalen says, researchers were encouraged to switch to other areas of research. One such project was a study of lint yield, lint percentage and fiber quality in Bollgard, Roundup Ready and Bollgard/Roundup Ready cotton.

Knowing that genes used for one purpose have had unforeseen effects on “non-targeted” traits, researchers conducted the experiments with cotton across several genetic backgrounds to determine whether the Bollgard, Roundup Ready and combination genes did affect lint yield and percentage and fiber quality.

“We did a study at Altus and Tipton (Oklahoma) over two years and compared new cottons with Bollgard resistance to their parent without. We did the same thing with Roundup Ready and the “stacked traits” of Bollgard and Roundup Ready together,” Verhalen said. “The basic message for farmers is that regardless of the background Bollgard is put on, it increases lint yield by 6.2 percent on the average over conventional cotton. The trait itself increased yield, no matter the background it was put on. With the stacked, the yields were at least as good as the recurrent parent.”

In Roundup Ready, background did influence it, he adds, saying farmers planting Roundup Ready should be more careful about choosing varieties that are consistently high yielding.

Verhalen and his colleagues have been conducting a cotton date of planting experiment for more than 20 years, the results of which they soon plan to publish.

“These experiments were done to determine optimum planting date or time interval for irrigated and dryland cotton production in Oklahoma and the Texas High Plains,” Verhalen said.

The study has already influenced crop insurance decisions in the two states.

“Many farmers take out crop insurance because we farm in a hazardous environment. Our study has been used to help farmers and insurance people decide if it's not too late to replant or if it would be futile to replant,” he says.

In addition to publishing the study's results in a scientific journal, Verhalen expects a major effort to disseminate the results to producers who might benefit from the information.

Another of Verhalen's major research efforts is conducting the state's official cotton variety test each year, the primary objectives of which are to determine the relative performance of commercially available varieties when grown under Oklahoma climatic conditions and to distribute the information to the state's cotton producers.

“This test includes four or five national standard varieties, as well as 10 or 11regional standards, so we can compare performance across the United States and the region,” he says.

Some of the varieties in each year's test are not yet commercially available, he adds, and some commercially available varieties are not tested because the test is fee based and some companies chose not to participate.

Oklahoma's state Extension cotton specialist, J.C. Banks, also leads cotton research programs, including experiments and demonstrations intended to address key production issues in the areas of variety selection, weed control, agronomics (plant population, tillage, fertility) and defoliation. The yearly results are published in the State Extension Cotton Research Report, which is available online at www.ntokcotton.org or www.okiecotton.org or by calling (580) 482-2120.

These variety trials differ from the official trials in several ways, Banks says.

“For ours, we talk to the seed company and ask them to participate in the off-station variety test. There is no cost to participate, but they decide what to submit and then provide the seed,” he says. “We normally finish harvest before December 1. We take a grab sample, gin it in a sample gin and send a fiber sample out. We've got information coming in from different places, but the goal is to get the annual report out in February or March.”

Though they have lost a third of this year's trials to weather, Banks says a report still will be published.

Banks is also involved in NTOK Cotton, a cooperative effort of cotton universities, ginners, warehouses and oil mills, equipment, seed and chemical suppliers, and other supporters of the cotton industry, dedicated to encouraging increased cotton acreage in a three-state area.

We started NTOK Cotton that's short for North Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas in early 2004 to tell the story of the new cotton. There has been a lot of negativity about cotton in Oklahoma because of pest issues, costs of production and other things. In the last 10 or 15 years in cotton, though, the whole world has changed. A lot of the negative aspects have been addressed, and we want producers to know that, Banks says. We've held a lot of meetings in non-traditional areas, working to get producers re-involved. I'd say we've been pretty successful if not for the drought, we'd have been real successful.