“While we have fewer varieties today than in 2000, I feel we have better quality choices than ever before. From the early ‘60s through the mid-‘80s, just two to four varieties were planted on 70 percent to 90 percent of the acreage; today there are about seven varieties planted on 50 percent of the acreage.

“If I asked everyone here today, ‘What is the dominant cotton variety you’ve seen in your time?’ it would be Deltapine 555, which has been on the market six or seven years.

“But if you look back through the data, starting in 1964, Stoneville 213 was the predominant variety through the mid-80s — in some years, it was planted on as much as 60 percent of the acreage. That’s 25 or more years that variety was planted widespread. It’s not likely we’ll ever again see a single variety with that kind of dominance and life span.”

New varieties “are coming along more quickly than ever,” Dodds says, “and it puts pressure on the university community to provide research data, and more reliance on private industry to generate management and performance data to help growers choose varieties that will make the best crop possible.”

In evaluating varieties, he notes, “the highest yield doesn’t always make the most money, especially for growers in the upper Delta, where there are issues with pigweed and getting preemerge materials activated.

“If you pick the highest yielding variety and then have to spend a lot of money on hand labor, you may be better off to consider a different technology.  Of course, you want to pick a top yielding variety — but you also have to consider which variety will make the most money so you can stay in business.”

Every year, Dodds says, there is a limited interest, usually in northeast Mississippi, in growing conventional cotton.

“In years past, Deltapine 393 filled those acres. More recently, some of the Seed Source Genetics varieties have been planted, and last year UA 48, an Arkansas variety, started getting some traction. UA 48 has really good fiber quality — it will almost qualify as Pima in terms of fiber length. 

“If you’re fighting worms already and you’re already applying herbicides to control pigweed, a conventional variety may be an option. But, I don’t think there’s any doubt that varieties with trait technology will continue to dominate in Mississippi cotton production.”

In choosing technology traits, Dodds says, “Don’t just look for the highest yield — also look at insect traits, herbicide traits, and seed treatment. If you’re looking at a Widestrike variety, be aware that you’ll need to manage a bit more aggressively for worms. The benefit that Widestrike brings to the table is being able to make postemerge applications of Liberty, which will be available in 2012. Bollgard II may be a bit more effective against worms, but it’s by no means bulletproof.”

When considering a herbicide trait, Dodds says, “I would urge you to spend your money on a system that will allow you to effectively control your weeds and pay the bills.

“If you’re comfortable with residuals and have irrigation, then pick the best yielding variety. If you’re less comfortable, you may want to consider the LibertyLink system; however, keep in mind that Liberty is not Roundup. If you try to use Liberty like Roundup, you’re going to spend a lot of money and not be very happy.