There's an adage in the cotton industry that producers choose the varieties they plant based on three factors — yield, yield and yield. Yet if textile mills were to make a list of the characteristics that would drive their decisions, quality might be in the top three positions.

Environment has a large impact on the yield and quality potential, but so does breeding, said Tom Kerby, vice president of technical services at Delta and Pine Land Company. The sustained improvement in average yield in the last 35 years serves as evidence of yield progress by breeders.

According to the USDA, the average yield in the 1970s was 475 pounds per acre. It rose to an average of 573 pounds in the 1980s and to 640 pounds in the 1990s. A new, all-time U.S. yield record of 723 pounds per harvested acre for upland cotton was established in 2003, and shattered in 2004 when U.S. producers harvested an average of 828 pounds per acre.

DP 555 BG/RR is well-known for its yield potential, said Kerby. It was grown on 1 million acres in 2003 and more than 2 million acres in 2004, according to the USDA-AMS Cotton Varieties Planted Report. DP 555 BG/RR has shown an average yield increase of about 15 percent over DP 458 B/RR while maintaining about the same level of fiber quality.

New varieties with high yield potential and favorable growing conditions have created new target yield levels in some areas. Textile mills and growers alike feel the pressure of a more global industry and the positive impact increases in quality could have on these marketing efforts.

Two of the most widely planted varieties in the last five years have been PM 1218 BG/RR and ST 4892BR. DP 444 BG/RR was introduced in significant quantities in 2004. The USDA-AMS reports it was planted on 6.5 percent of the U.S. acres last year.

“When we look at all the public data, as well as D&PL's extensive database, we find 438 head-to-head comparisons of DP 444 BG/RR with PM 1218 BG/RR, and 607 comparisons against ST 4892BR,” Kerby said. “These data indicate DP 444 BG/RR has a significant yield increase over the comparison varieties and a substantially higher fiber quality potential, particularly lower micronaire and longer fiber.”

In D&PL testing, Kerby said, DP 444 BG/RR has averaged strength of 30.0 grams per tex, while maintaining good uniformity of fiber length. DP 488 BG/RR, DP 494 RR, DP 432 RR, and DP 434 RR are also examples of new varieties with high yield and fiber quality potential that are now available to growers in significant quantities, he added.

“These varieties demonstrate a good combination of outstanding yield potential with fiber quality that has been significantly improved over the previous varieties with significant market share,” Kerby said.

“In past years, many growers have been hesitant to abandon high-yielding varieties for ones with good fiber quality potential which frequently did not meet grower expectations for yield. We believe these new D&PL varieties will find wide acceptance because they have combined potential for both yield and fiber quality.”

The advancements made have been the result of D&PL's extensive, long-term breeding efforts. The new varieties with higher yield and fiber quality potential are the result of substantial investment in germplasm breeding and an aggressive testing effort, said Kerby.

D&PL maintains 10 total conventional breeding programs designed to create unique combinations for yield and fiber quality. The germplasm coming out of these programs enters a coordinated advanced testing program that allows all breeders to evaluate their germplasm in all 10 breeding regions. Fiber quality is monitored throughout the entire program, said Kerby.

Lloyd May, long-time cotton breeder in Georgia, recently joined the D&PL research staff as a breeder at the D&PL Coastal Plains Research Station in Tifton, Ga. Access to germplasm is essential for cultivar development and D&PL's global reach provides a continuous pipeline of elite germplasm to all 10 of the company's breeding programs, said May.

“No other company has such a comprehensive germplasm development, sharing and sourcing effort,” he said. “The broad, cooperative approach, drawing on diverse expertise and germplasm worldwide, is the key to future cultivar development.”