The name of the game is early planting. As soon as soil temperatures warm up in April, Mississippi grower Duke Morgan rolls his planting equipment across his Delta fields near Shaw.

“Our planting date depends on the weather,” says Morgan, who farms with his father, also named Duke. “In 2003, we started planting on April 14. I prefer starting around the 10th if the weather is good, and we have warm soil temperatures. We start on our heavy ground.

“We plant more than two-thirds of the farm in full-season varieties, so we need to get them in the ground as soon as possible and put more management into them through the season to get them off sooner,” says the younger Morgan. “They not only need early planting, they also must have the germination — the seed quality — behind them. We usually have some cool nights after planting, so good seed quality is important.”

Since he plants so early, the No. 1 thing Morgan is concerned about at that time is a cotton variety's “cool test.”

“We plant in stale seedbeds, and we want to make sure that every seed that we buy comes up, which is why seed quality is essential,” he says. “With as much money as we spend when that tractor makes that one pass planting cotton seed, we want to get it all up.

“If you have to replant, that puts you behind a couple of weeks, which lowers your yields, especially on full-season varieties. You can't buy time.”

To help growers like Morgan know they are buying the highest-quality cottonseed possible, Stoneville, an Emergent Genetics brand, has initiated an industry first. Stoneville faxes and emails warm and cool germination third-party test results from the state seed testing laboratory on its cottonseed lots to its distributor and service center partners following seed shipment.

“I was at UAP in Cleveland (Miss.) the other day, and they already had the cool test from Stoneville on the seed lots they had in stock,” Morgan says. “Normally we get the seed in, and then we have to get the lot number and go back to see what the cool test is.

“It's great knowing that information ahead of time instead of scrambling around and trying to find some good seed. We don't have time to send back low-quality seed. Having that information upfront nips that problem in the bud quick.”

Morgan normally farms 3,000 acres of cotton, sometimes more. His land is about 97 percent irrigated with a third of his acreage under pivot; the rest furrow-irrigated.

In the fall, after he shreds the stalks, Morgan para-tills some of his cotton acreage. But on the majority of his cotton acreage, he applies potash, rows up and rolls the beds. In the spring, he applies a burndown herbicide, rolls again and plants.

His varieties last year included Stoneville's stacked ST 4892BR and ST 5599BR, a medium-maturity variety. “ST 4892BR has been a very good variety for us,” Morgan says. “It's been productive on just about any soil type — the majority of our soil ranges from mixed to heavy. In 2003, we averaged more than 1,000 pounds per acre, and even picked some close to three-bale cotton on our ST 5599BR.

“We plan to decrease ST 4892BR's acreage this year and bump up ST 5599BR's acreage,” he notes. “ST 5599BR out-yielded ST 4892BR by 150 to 200 pounds per acre. We probably will have about 1,000 acres of ST 4892BR and split the rest of the acreage between ST 5599BR and another company's variety. I also want to try ST 5242BR, a new variety that has higher yield potential and better fiber quality than ST 4892BR.”

Both ST 4892BR and ST 5599BR graded well for Morgan last year; he had no high micronaire problems. “ST 5599BR yields a little higher and has real good gin turnout,” he said.

“Both varieties have very good vigor. One thing I noticed when we started planting ST 4892BR several years ago was its vigor. ST 5599BR seems to have even more vigor. ST 5599BR has great emergence and seedling vigor — it throws clods coming up. And it keeps growing. And the seed lot tests that we've seen so far show this year's cool test on the Stoneville varieties is real good. You can't ask for better than that.”