Cotton producers have more variety choices than ever before, which makes it more important than ever to choose the right variety for a particular situation.

“The right choice can make you, the wrong one can break you,” says Darrin Dodds, assistant Extension professor of plant and soil science and cotton specialist at Mississippi State University.

“Efficiency and profitability will be the keys to cotton’s longevity,” he said at the annual meeting of the Mississippi Agricultural Consultants Association, “and producers have more tools available — more herbicides, more insecticides, more varieties, more technology — to help them achieve this.”

But, he says, the large number of new varieties coming to market have increasingly shorter life cycles.

“We’re seeing more new cotton varieties developed more quickly and released in a shorter time period than ever before. The days of planting a particular variety for years on end are over.

“We will see more varieties with a life span of only a couple of years. If it’s a really good variety, maybe it’ll last three or four years; otherwise, it’ll be gone very quickly.

“This puts a lot of emphasis on variety testing to address the performance of a given variety— what are the characteristics of the variety and how do you need to manage it to produce more cotton?”

A problem with the quicker releases, Dodds says, is that “it’s pretty difficult to get an extensive data set for a variety before growers start planting it. The days are over of having three years of data for growers and consultants to know where a variety fits best, which soil types a particular variety is best suited for, and how to properly manage that variety. Everyone’s being forced to adjust on the fly.

“We are also now seeing more technology in or on the seed, or both, than ever before, whether it be genetic traits or seed treatments or both. This technology isn’t free — it comes with a cost, and it puts even more emphasis on variety testing to determine the technology fits with a given variety and in what situations the technology should be utilized.”

Additionally, “It really pays to understand the growing conditions where variety tests are located,” Dodds says.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a year when that was more evident than in 2009. When you think about the weather we had in different areas of Mississippi, it becomes evident you need to understand what really went on at those testing locations to truly understand variety testing numbers.

“We had a lot of large plot and small plot variety tests last year. While each type of plot has advantages and drawbacks, if you combine the results of large plot tests and small plot tests, the better varieties generally will rise to the top.”

For cotton last year, Dodds says, there were 49 varieties tested at nine locations with two different tests; for soybeans, there were 273 entries at eight locations with six different tests; and for corn, 100 entries at three locations with two different tests.

“Although we tested 49 cotton varieties, realistically, probably only 10 of those account for 80-plus percent of the acreage in Mississippi,” he says.

“Large plot tests give a real-world view of how these varieties can perform. There are many ways you can look at the data — by individual location, Delta versus hills, dryland versus irrigated — but in general, better-performing varieties will still come to the top.”

Dodds says some of the varieties consultants can expect to be working with this year include:

• ST 5458 B2RF, a mid-maturity variety suited to a wide range of soil types and irrigated/non-irrigated regimes. “If you put it on good, strong ground with irrigation, it can get tall pretty quickly, so you need to be ready to manage this.”

• FM 1740 B2RF, an early variety that “will probably be a better fit on dryland fields that hold water well and have high fertility and a lot of organic matter. If dryland fields don’t meet this criteria, keep this variety on irrigated fields with a history of productivity.”

• ST 4288 B2RF, an early to mid-maturity variety, “fits across a wide range of soil types, is broadly adapted, and won’t get extremely tall.”

• ST 5288 B2RF, a mid-maturity variety that is suited to a wide range of soil types. “You do need to be on top of things with your plant growth regulator applications, or it can get away from you.”

• PHY 367 WRF, an early-maturity variety that is said to offer root knot nematode tolerance. “But until we have a better handle on this and know for sure whether it will or it won’t, I’d suggest you manage nematodes with a nematode product, not variety.”

• PHY 565 WRF, a mid- to full-maturity variety with broad adaptability. “It’s probably going to need a plant growth regulator, so start looking at it around pinhead square stage to see what internodes are doing and whether or not an application is needed.

“Deltapine Class of 2010 varieties you’re likely to see include DP 1028 B2RF, an early to mid-maturity variety; DP 1034 B2RF; and DP 1048 B2RF and DP 1050 B2RF, which are more the full-season varieties.”

Dow AgroSciences has released their PHY 367 WRF variety with nematode tolerance, Dodds says, and they’ve also acquired rights from Syngenta for its VipCot Bt protein, which will be combined with Dow’s WideStrike technology.

“We do have some nematode issues in Mississippi — it’s not uncommon to see 25 percent to 30 percent of our cotton acreage with reniform nematode infestations. We’ve managed them pretty well with seed treatments and, to a lesser extent, with Temik at planting. There is some transgenic work being done for nematode resistance, but that is still a ways out.”

Going forward, there is going to be a broader choice of technologies in terms of Bt and herbicide resistance, Dodds says.

“To an extent, cotton is going to benefit from what’s happening with other crops. We’re looking at potentially 88 million acres of corn, 76 million to 78 million acres of soybeans, and maybe only 10 million planted acres of cotton this year.

“Some of the traits that are being developed for corn and soybeans may be put into cotton also. One of those is drought tolerance, which is in phase 1 of Monsanto’s R&D pipeline and is probably at least eight years away.

“Transgenic lygus control is another trait that’s in very early testing by Monsanto. It won’t be silver bullet, but rather part of the toolbox for lygus control.

“Bollgard III cotton is a little farther along, in phase 3 of Monsanto’s R&D work.

“Dicamba and glufosinate-resistant cotton stacked with Roundup Ready Flex is pretty close to fruition in Monsanto’s pipeline, with expanded field testing at the university level this year. Growers will have to be cautious in applying dicamba over cotton if soybeans or non-dicamba tolerant cotton are nearby.

“Dow AgroSciences’ DHT and DHT1 traits, which are a little farther out, will offer resistance to 2,4-D and 2,4-D and triclopyr, respectively. I have the same concern in applying 2,4-D and triclopyr as I do with dicamba — the need to be careful that it doesn’t get on neighboring susceptible crops.”

e-mail: hbrandon@farmpress.com