Beltwide Cotton Genetics didn't anticipate launching a new cotton variety in the Mid-South as soon as the 2004 season, but two things happened to speed the process.

The first was encouraging data on Beltwide Cotton Genetics varieties planted in Mid-South plots in 2002. In 2003, the company expanded tests to around 100 sites in the Mid-South, including OVT trials, county agent trials and on-farm farms.

One of the varieties, BCG 28R, “produced a lot of cotton under a lot of different soil types, environments and production schemes,” said Rick Rice, marketing and sales director for Beltwide Cotton Genetics. “It's also an easy variety to grow in terms of management — it's close to the old Deltapine 20 varieties. It responds to Pix, but it doesn't take a lot of Pix when you have to use it.”

The company knew it had a good product in BCG 28R, “but we didn't make a decision to go commercial with it in the Mid-South until we hired John Bradley,” Rice said.

Bradley joined Beltwide Cotton Genetics in February as account manager and consultant for the Memphis-based company. He will focus on bringing the new cottonseed company's transgenic and conventional varieties to the Mid-South.

“We think hiring him is just a match made in heaven,” Rice said. “John has been a blur since we announced at the 2004 Beltwide Cotton Conferences that he was coming to work for us.”

As superintendent of the Milan Experiment Station for 14 years, Bradley turned the Milan No-Till Field Day into a nationally recognized event. More recently, Bradley worked for Monsanto as a conservation tillage specialist.

“He brings a much-needed technical background to us,” Rice said. “John is also the consummate salesman as demonstrated by his ability to move the industry at large to conservation tillage.”

One of Bradley's first jobs is to assist in the launch of commercial sales of 10,000 to 12,000 bags of BCG 28R this season. BCG 28R is an early-medium maturity variety with a compact growth habit, staple of 34-36, micronaire, 4.5-4.9, and strength, 27-28.

Since the Mid-South is such a heavy stacked gene area, and BCG 28R is a Roundup Ready-only variety, Rice says the best position for the variety is cotton refuge acres for Bt cotton. “While it's a small market in terms of market share, I think we're going to have a pretty significant portion of the refuge acres in the Mid-South.”

The company plans to introduce additional conventional and transgenic varieties in the future, but the first stacked gene varieties released will be Bollgard II/Roundup Ready Flex, which should be available in 2006.

Beltwide Cotton Genetics was formed in 2002 when Noal Lawhon, president of McCrory, Ark.-based Lawhon Farm Services acquired Texas Originator Cottonseed, an established and respected cotton-breeding program out of Harlingen, Texas.

Beltwide Cotton Genetics sold 50,000 bags of cotton varieties to west Texas and south Texas growers in its first year of operation, in 2003. Former TOC breeder Tom Kilgore is heading up variety development for the new company.

Lawhon also sells corn and soybeans through Stauffer Seeds and Delta King Seed. Delta King Seed is one of the top five suppliers of soybean and wheat seed in the Mid-South.

Beltwide Cotton Genetics and Delta King Seed will operate as separate entities and will maintain separate sales staff, according to Lawhon. “We wanted to make sure that we didn't take our eye off that soybean business. Soybeans brought us to the dance.”