One of the most important decisions cotton producers make before they take a tractor to the field is what varieties to plant. The number of good cotton varieties available complicates the annual chore. Just ask producers on the Texas High Plains.

“Presently we have over 130 different varieties, conventional and transgenic, from which to choose, and more are being marketed each year. Obviously this makes variety selection complex,” says Dawson County producer Mike Hughes.

Hughes begins his selection process by reviewing published results from variety tests conducted at the Texas A&M University Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Lubbock, Texas. “This is an excellent source of information as their research results are from replicated tests at several High Plains locations, and they measure and report virtually every component of cotton production.” He also obtains variety information from seed companies, ginners, producers and the Internet.

Hughes considers loan value, lint yield, storm resistance, transgenic traits and fiber properties.

“After I evaluate all the information I've gathered, I select several new varieties that appear to be good performers and have the traits I need. I plant these in 60-acre blocks. I plant the remainder of my acreage to varieties I have previously tested,” Hughes said.

“The next year I'll plant the top two or three performers in my 60-acre-block tests on all my cotton acreage.” When additional commercial varieties are released with new or improved traits that will benefit Hughes, he tests them in 60-acre-blocks, and again selects the top performers to plant. “This technique maximizes the probability that I will continually plant varieties best suited for my farming operation.”

Randy Smith, Hockley County farmer, has grown cotton since 1978 has watched varieties improve. “I have noticed over the years that varieties have undergone significant changes such as yield increases, higher quality fiber, better storm resistance, and genetically engineered insect resistance and herbicide tolerance,” he said.

“In 1978, a 2-bale crop was outstanding. Now by selecting the right variety and best cultural practices, we can produce yields up to 4 bales per acre.”

Smith uses information from the Texas A&M University Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Lubbock, other research institutions, ginners, other producers, seed companies, and periodicals such as Southwest Farm Press.

He also tests new varieties on a few acres to determine how well they perform under his farming conditions. “I believe the more information I can obtain about varieties the better my chances of choosing the ones best suited for my situation,” Smith said.

“Lint yield per acre, fiber properties, loan value, Bollgard II/Roundup Ready traits and an acceptable level of storm resistance, are of critical importance in variety selection,” Smith said. He also considers seed costs and technology fees.

“I found no significant difference in dryland per-acre yields between the conventional (non-transgenic) and transgenic varieties I was using. So I plant dryland acres to conventional varieties, and my net income is higher than it would have been from transgenic varieties because seed costs are so much lower and there are no technology fees,” Smith said.

Producing above-average cotton has always been a goal of James Hinton, producer in Floyd County. “Over the years I have learned that to achieve both high quality lint and high yields I must plant varieties well adapted to my situation,” Hinton said.

In 2006, Hinton planted the Roundup Ready variety, NG2448RR, on both his dryland and irrigated acres. He was satisfied with the variety but plans a change in 2007. “Roundup can be applied “over-the-top” without cotton-plant damage only in the early growth stages. So I plan to change to a Flex variety next year. This will enable me to spray the appropriate herbicide over-the-top virtually all season without damaging the cotton plants.

“I do not have any significant insect or disease problems, so I do not need varieties with the Bollgard trait, or those having tolerance to various diseases.”

He selects varieties each based on information from the Texas A&M University Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Lubbock, other producers, and Southwest Farm Press.

He also considers results from his own small-acreage tests of newer varieties. “Testing varieties on your own land is worthwhile because your production circumstances are unique.”

Hinton considers lint yield, loan value, lint properties, herbicide tolerance, storm resistance, seed cost and technology fees in variety selection.

Lubbock County producer Mike Harkey has been selecting cotton varieties for 22 years and always used “conventional” varieties. That will change in 2007. “Due to increasing weed pressure on some of my land I have decided to plant varieties that will allow me to apply herbicides “over-the-top,” he said.

Harkey uses information from the Texas A&M University Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Lubbock, seed companies, other producers and Southwest Farm Press.

“I consider such factors as lint yield, storm resistance, seed costs, technology fees, transgenic traits and lint properties,” he said.

“Since I'll be planting some transgenic varieties next year, my variety selection process will be significantly more difficult. I will have to weigh the advantages of having the transgenic traits against the much-higher costs of the seed and technology fees that go along with them.”