If the U.S. cotton industry is to survive and prosper through the current economic uncertainty, U.S. cotton producers must be able to harvest more of their crop on the same number of acres, experts say.

In that respect, cotton growers got some good news during the Beltwide Cotton Conferences with the announcement by Monsanto's Delta and Pine Land business unit that it is introducing five new varieties that could increase yields by an average of 5 percent to 8 percent.

The new varieties, which will be marketed as the Deltapine Class of 09, all contain Monsanto's Bollgard II and Roundup Ready Flex technologies and offer improved fiber quality characteristics. The varieties also appear to be more widely adapted to a number of cotton-growing environments.

Monsanto says the 5-percent to 8-percent yield increases, which are significantly higher than the normal year-to-year increases expected with new varieties — were drawn from the experience of on-farm trials conducted by about 100 producers in 2008.

“The excitement with the Class of 09 comes not only from the data showing a new standard in on-farm yield and value performance,” said Robert T. Fraley, Monsanto chief technology officer, who met with a group of farmers participating in the company's new product exposure program during the Beltwide Conferences in San Antonio.

“There is also a real excitement around the Class of 09 because more than 100 farmers experienced first-hand the increased yield potential on their farms. We anticipate this excitement continuing, as the Class of 09 is the latest in a series of gains we are driving through breeding and technology as we seek to double yields by 2030.”

The new varieties — DP 0912 B2RF, DP 0920 B2RF, DP 0924 B2RF, DP 0935 B2RF and DP 0949 B2RF — showed excellent yield potential across hundreds of test locations during the 2008 season, said Fraley, considered the driving force behind Monsanto's advanced genetic engineering technologies.

The new numbering system is designed to provide farmers with information on the year of the release — 2009 — and the relative maturity of the varieties with the higher numbers reflecting those in mid- to full-season range, said Dave Albers, Monsanto's cotton germplasm development lead.

“In our testing of the Class of 09 varieties, we have captured yield data and followed that through fiber quality testing,” he noted. “Across the Belt, these varieties outyielded market standards like DP 555 BG/RR and ST 4554B2RF, which have been cited as the top planted varieties by the USDA.

“Once we got gin receipts and fiber data we saw that crop values were also higher than the market standards of any of the commercial varieties tested.”

Innovative new product exposure plots enabled the more than 100 farmers to try the Class of 09 varieties on their farms, said Albers. The growers had large plots and managed them based on their own scouting programs.

Wellington, Texas, farmer Tony Cox looked at four Class of 09 varieties. With yields of 3.5 to 4 bales in each of those varieties, Cox says he looks forward to replanting some of those varieties again in 2009 as they are commercialized.

In Georgia, Tony Lasseter, who farms near Moultrie had three Class of 09 varieties — DP 0924 B2RF, DP 0920 B2RF, and DP 0935 B2RF — beat DP 555 BG/RR, which had commanded the biggest share of Lasseter's farm for the past five years. DP 0920 B2RF and DP 0935 B2RF outperformed “triple nickel” by approximately 200 pounds.

Lynn Mount and Jody Miller in Friendship, Tenn., had four Class of 09 varieties that outperformed ST 4554 B2RF. Mount saw advantages from approximately 100 pounds per acre to more than 350 pounds per acre over the local standard.

The Class of 09 also represents a different approach to seed increase for Monsanto, according to Dave Rhylander, traits manager for the company. Monsanto seed growers were asked to “bulk up” enough seed for the commercial release of nine varieties.

“We found out which varieties yielded the best and provided the highest quality fiber, and we released those as the Class of 09,” he said. “We will re-evaluate some of the ones that didn't make the Class of 09, and they may or may not be released in 2010.”

Those other varieties will have to perform extremely well, said Albers, because as good as the ones that made the Class of 09 are, other varieties the company is testing again for possible release in 2010 and 2011 have the potential to be even better.

“The merger of Monsanto and Delta and Pine Land is allowing us to do things that most of us didn't think were possible,” said Albers, who came up on the Delta and Pine Land side of the company.