It escaped much notice until recently, but this is the first year the “same” cotton variety can be bought under several brand names. That means cotton farmers must now deal with some of the same seed issues in other row crops.
“It's interesting how this has shaken out,” said Sandy Stewart, cotton specialist with the LSU AgCenter. “The fact this has happened means it's even more critical cotton farmers are provided with good seed data. A lot of folks already know about this and I'm glad.
“Producers are paying a lot for seed nowadays and they should know exactly what they're buying. Is variety X the same as variety Z?
“The other day, I had a replant question and suggested (variety X). The consultant I was talking with said, ‘Wait a minute. Isn't that the same as (variety Z)?’ And it was.”
In early May, Bill Robertson, Arkansas Extension cotton specialist, sent out a newsletter alerting farmers to the situation. Growing multiple varieties on a farm is “primarily a risk management tool,” he wrote. “We want to avoid putting all our eggs in one basket. In the past, sufficient amounts of genetic diversity existed between varieties that we were not greatly concerned as to which varieties were chosen. That situation has changed…
“In 2006, Arkansas growers had the opportunity to purchase three varieties under as many as 12 different brand names. This only includes Bollgard II/Roundup Ready Flex varieties. I would expect to see a similar situation for Roundup Ready Flex varieties as well.”
Through the grapevine or personal study, many farmers already know about the variety issue.
“It's amazing how fast information can spread nowadays,” said Robertson in an interview. “I've constantly been getting calls and e-mails from consultants and producers on this. E-mailers urged me to make this well-known and they're right. That's what spurred me to address it in the newsletter.”
The cotton seed industry set up now allows companies to develop germ plasm and then supply it to other companies.
“I'm not saying that's good or bad. But it's certainly changed the way farmers should look at the cotton seed industry. We've got people who're selling cotton seed that never have before.”
Many producers try to pick cotton varieties that will knock a home run. That approach may need tweaking.
“Home run hitters have a lot of strikeouts,” said Robertson. “Instead, we should be looking to just get on base all the time. If a producer spreads risk, the weather and everything else should click just right for at least one of his varieties. Hopefully the other varieties will be strong enough to bring in a good, profitable crop.”
And it's now doubly important for producers to check variety lists and choices over closely. The “same” varieties aren't necessarily equal. Varieties from the same germ plasm can be much different in how they grow off, how they look, seedling vigor and other things.
“Producers need to pay close attention to trial data,” said Stewart. “This situation illustrates how shaky it is to use one year/one location variety trial data.”
“I agree with what (Robertson) is saying,” said Tom Barber, Mississippi Extension cotton specialist. “It's fact. And I'll remind farmers there can certainly be differences in (these varieties') seed quality, quality control, where the crop was grown for seed, what happened during the season and if harvest was timely. Proper storage is another thing to throw in the mix when considering how seed will perform.”
Barber, who said he's had a few calls and conversations on the subject, expects it will be a hot topic during meetings next winter. “We're not planting much Flex in Mississippi this year so it hasn't hit home with many producers. But I believe it ill.”
With “a ton” of seed variety lists currently floating around Robertson said he's in favor of a centralized seed list. “I'm not sure what the legal ramifications are, but every farmer — let me stress every one — I speak to about this wants a list. Whether it's a voluntary list or one that's mandatory from the state, they want one.
“I'd like a comprehensive list to come from the seed companies. That would help remove the margin for errors and would seem to benefit the companies as well. (Sharing germ plasm) is the wave of the future and without some kind of reliable list it's only going to get more complicated.”
States that allow VNS (variety not stated) cotton varieties to be sold might now reconsider, said Stewart. “This would seem to be a good reason — maybe the push needed — to change those laws.”
Robertson insisted he's not aiming to hurt business or disparage any company. “I'm not out to get anyone or put them in a bad light. Hopefully everyone understands my first responsibility is to the state's cotton farmers and they need to know about this. What's best for the producer is good for all — Extension, consultants, industry, everyone.”