There’s little doubt that something rare happened in the southern Mid-South this season. The region may have experienced a perfect season, or something very close to it, which has allowed many cotton varieties to reach full genetic potential.
Some cotton yields have been nothing short of phenomenal, approaching or exceeding 4 bales and 5 bales per acre. Even dryland corners on some center pivot fields have looked just as good as the cotton under the pivot.
What happened? According to Keylon Gholston, Deltapine cotton products manager at Monsanto, high yields in the southern Mid-South, “had a lot to do with our heat unit accumulation. We never really had much heat stress this summer which led to extremely good boll retention, and we had adequate moisture for the most part.”
On top of that, “we’ve seen dramatic genetic improvement since 2008 in genetic marker technology. Two varieties released last year by Deltapine, DP 1311 B2RF and DP 1321 B2RF, have seen exceptional yields this year. The DP1311 picked over 5-bale cotton in one field in the Mid-South. The yield potential is there. We had the excellent boll retention and growing conditions. When you put all that together, it equals extremely high yields.”
Southeast – a rainy summer
Mother Nature was a bit stingy handing out the good fortune, noted Gholston. Portions of the lower Southeast “are going to have some high yields, but they had so much rainfall. There are places in south Georgia that received 60 inches to 70 inches in July, and that hurt a lot of their fruit set.”
Josh Mayfield, a Southeast seed agronomist for Bayer, says despite the rainfall in the region, “growers are picking some really good cotton. We’ve been showcasing a new variety, ST 6448 GLB2, a true, full-season, Georgia-type cotton variety. Last year, it was in the top of our variety trials and this year, it’s showing out. We’ve had 3-bale yields, and some reports of 1,700 pound to 1,800 pound yields with it.”
“The crop in much of Georgia has turned out better than anticipated,” said Steve Brown, PhytoGen cotton development specialist for the Southeast. “The crop in east Georgia is late, and it’s probably going to be a little disappointing. We had a lot of late-planted cotton because of rainfall in May and June. We needed an extended fall, and it’s been a struggle.”
Brown added, “The flagship variety for PhytoGen the last few years has been PHY 499 WRF. We’re excited about what’s it’s done in the past and in 2013. The seedling vigor of PHY 499 has been quite good. And we’re excited about other varieties in our pipeline.”
Basket busting in the lower Mid-South
The crop in the lower Mid-South will be talked about for years, however. In fact, there was a new term going around this year. When farmers using John Deere’s round bale picker are asked how much they’re picking, they answer, “About a bale an acre.” That’s a round bale, however, which contains between 3.5 bales and 4 bales.
“We just hit a home run this year,” said Brooks Blanche, PhytoGen cotton development specialist for the south Delta. “It was a combination of factors coming together. We typically don’t get half those factors, but we got them all this year. I don’t want to jinx anybody, but it was just about a perfect year.
One blemish on the season was excessive rain early in the season. Blanche said a Louisiana cotton producer almost plowed up his PHY499 WRF on one field because the stand was so poor. The field ended up producing a whopping 4.7 bales per acre.
“It’s been amazing,” said Kyle Fontenot, regional agronomist for Bayer, in Louisiana. “It seems like everybody you talk to is picking 3-bale to 3.5 bale cotton. We’ve seen monster yields on some fields where one of our varieties, ST 4288 B2F, harvested 3.5 bales to 4 bales. We’re seeing big yields from Desha County, Ark., to Concordia and Catahoula parishes in Louisiana, to Alexandria, La.”
Fontenot said a new variety, FM 1944GLB2, ginned out 1,957 pounds, with a 56 cent loan value on a field near McGehee, Ark. “We don’t see these types of yields in the upper Mid-South. Everything was so late getting planted.
Southwest breeders focus on heat tolerance
As harvest was getting under way in west Texas, Terry Campbell, general manager for Americot, Inc., which markets Americot and NexGen brands, said he’s seen yields for NG 1511 B2RF exceed 3 bales and 4 bales consistently, and more than 5 bales on occasion. “We’ve seen these excellent yields, combined with high fiber quality and high turnout consistently in the two years that NG 1511 B2RF has been commercially available, from Arizona to the Carolinas. In west Texas, one farmer harvested 2,346 pounds of cotton in Gaines County under a pivot. Another farmer in Dawson County made 2,338 pounds on the variety on 97 acres of drip tape, the highest he’s ever made. A farmer in Lubbock County made 2,206 pounds on 52 acres of drip irrigation.”
“What we’re seeing is a high level of heat tolerance with this highly adaptable variety,” Campbell said. “You have to have a cotton that can withstand the high nighttime temperatures as well as the high daytime extremes. NG 1511 B2RF has a tendency to not lose as much fruit as other varieties during those temperature extremes.”
Campbell said it’s important to note that most U.S. cotton is produced with less than optimum water resources. “Growers tell us they need cotton that yields well with limited water and extreme temperatures. NG 1511 B2RF has done extremely well in those environments.”
“There are a lot of top-end yielding growers shooting for the sky, but there are several million acres out there that are dryland, and they may get rain or they may not,” added Robert Cossar with Croplan by Winfield. “We want varieties with top end yield, but are indeterminate enough to hold on when they get in a stressful situation. We want stress tolerance plus top-end yield.”
Cossar says Croplan’s CG 3787 B2RF has seen promising yield in the Coastal Bend, where the crop is averaging 2-plus bales. “On a field near Memphis, Texas, CG 3787 B2RF made between 4.5 bales and 5 bales an acre.”
Larry Stauber, an agronomist with Dyna-Gro and All-Tex brands, says DG 2285 B2RF picked over 5 bales for a drip-tape grower in west Texas. “Early in, it was cold, it was wet and we had stacked internodes with missing fruit. But it bounced back. I would not have thought it.”
Heath Reeves, regional agronomist for south Texas and the Coastal Bend with Bayer, said ST 4946 GLB2 and FM 1944 GLB2 and ST 6448 GLB2, averaged 1,633 pounds of lint in three on-farm trials in the Central Valley of Texas. “To go over 3 bales is outstanding.”
In the Coastal Bend area of Texas, “ST 6448 GLB2 yielded 1,356 pounds while the FM 1944 BLB2 yielded 1,303 pounds,” Reeves said. “An okra-leaf cotton suited for dryland, FM 8270 GLB2, held its own in the irrigated locations, at 1,120 pounds. When it gets to the top end of performance, it can hang as well on high input locations. But on dryland, it can really hang with other varieties.”
Conventional cotton varieties did well in 2013 too, according to Edward Jungmann, with Seed Source Genetics. He reports yields for UA 222 of over 1,900 pounds for irrigated cotton near Weslaco, Texas, and 1,870 pounds for the same variety under dryland conditions. In Weslaco, HQ201CT yielded over 2,000 pounds per acre, irrigated and 1,700 pounds dryland. UA 103 yielded 1,798 pounds under dryland conditions in Weslaco.
A grower in Brownsville, Tenn., harvested over 1,200 pounds on HQ212 CT, while UA 222 came in just under 3 bales. HQ 210 CT and HQ 212 CT also did well in northeast Alabama, Jungmann said.
Variety placement is important
Most seed companies conduct extensive trials prior to the release of a variety that gives growers an opportunity to look at varieties before they’re commercialized and under a wide range of growing conditions.
Deltapine’s Gholston said Monsanto’s New Product Evaluator program, “shoots for dryland and irrigated NPE growers so we can better our performance in low-, mid- and high-yield environments. From a percentage standpoint, where we’ve made the highest percent gain is in the low-end yield area, like with DP 1044 B2RF in west Texas. That variety has raised the bar for fields with no irrigation or limited irrigation.”
Ken Legé, director of technical service for Americot, agrees that genetic gains have pushed cotton variety yields higher in recent years. “I can remember in the early 2000s, when growers would call you when they had 2.5-bale yields. We’re seeing growers making 3.5-bale to 5-bale yields, without a lot of change in agronomic practice.”
However, Legé adds that the most profitable cotton, “may be the 2-bale to 2.5 bale cotton grown on limited water. That mid-range cotton, which takes in the majority of cotton by far, we’ve seen more stability there.”
Legé noted that NG 4111 RF “has also done real well for us because of its extremely high Verticillium wilt tolerance. It has gone across a lot of dryland and irrigated acres on the High Plains.”
“We are always looking at stability, knowing that genetics are turning over pretty fast,” added Croplan’s Cossar. “Today, you hardly ever plant a variety that is over four years old. If you’re not adapting to newer varieties right away, you’re behind. We look at a lot of dryland versus irrigated plots to see how that variety moves from one environment to another. And if it doesn’t move, then placement is the key. It’s all about knowing the base genetics of a cotton variety, knowing where it performs and where it doesn’t perform.”
“I still don’t think we’ve seen the total fruition of the technologies we’re seeing in breeding,” said Deltapine’s Gholston. “Cotton growers have even better and higher performing genetics to look forward to in the future.”