Stoneville Pedigreed Seed Co. had a strong message to send during a recent media tour of Mid-South cotton fields — there are many good cotton varieties out there, so don't put all your eggs in one variety basket.

The best place to start for such an approach is understanding maturity ranges, according to David Guthrie, technical services manager for Stoneville.

Guthrie noted that about 20 to 30 percent of the varieties planted in the Mid-South each year are planted in very-early- to early-maturing varieties like the old ST 132 and current varieties, PM 1218 BG/RR and Sure-Grow 125.

About 50 to 60 percent of the market is typically planted in early- to mid-maturing varieties, which includes Stoneville's own ST 474 and all the material that comes out of ST 474, including BXN 47, ST 4892BR and ST 4793R.

The rest is in mid- to full-maturity varieties, like DP 5415 RR, DP 458 B/R and NuCOTN 33B.

The various maturities respond differently to environmental conditions. For example, in years in which rain falls early in the season, then ceases, “very-early-maturing varieties are going to have an advantage,” Guthrie said. “The problem is that when you run into a year when you have a dry spring, like 1993, they can burn up and cut out early on you. The very-early-maturing varieties were also at a disadvantage this year in that cotton was opening when the August rains occurred and severe boll rot set in.”

“The drawback of full-season varieties is what we ran into in 1999 and 2000. If you run out of moisture in late July and August, then there isn't enough moisture to fill that crop out.”

Guthrie says that mid-maturity varieties are the most stable in terms of performance. “They tend to benefit in a relatively dry year although the last two years have been extreme, but they're also not as prone to suffer from inadequate rainfall late in the season.”

The very-early- to early-maturing varieties have done the best recently, noted Guthrie, “which has helped push the percentage of those cotton varieties up to around 35-40 percent. We're creatures of habit. Growers ask what worked best last year. Well, what worked best last year was a very early-maturing variety. I think that's why we see a lot of PM 1218 BG/RR.”

Guthrie doesn't take the approach of blaming specific varieties for recent quality problems in cotton, but noted, “we are skewed too much to early-maturing varieties.

“Traditionally, we have grown a lot of longer-season material, which typically have very good fiber qualities,” he explained. “When you shift away from that, going from planting a lot of cotton from varieties that have very good fiber to ones that have okay quality, it's going to have a larger influence on overall micronaire, staple length and all the fiber qualities. I think that's what we've seen the last couple of years.

“And that's why we at Stoneville always talk about planting a diversity of maturities, so you don't have all your eggs in one maturity basket. You have to have a diversity every year so that the varieties that make you one and a quarter bales are offset by those that make two bales.”

The media tour on Oct. 3 also included stops on grower farms featuring several Stoneville cotton varieties including a new Roundup Ready variety, ST 4793R, and two stacked varieties, BXN 49B and ST 4892BR.

Here's more on the varieties from the growers.

  • ST 4793R — An early-mid-maturing, high-yield-potential variety with the Roundup Ready gene. In early October, Tunica, Miss., cotton producer Will Owen said his ST 4793R appeared to have as much yield potential as his stacked varieties.
    Jonesboro, Ark., cotton producer Marty White has also been pleasantly surprised with the yield potential of ST 4793R. He planted half of one field in the variety and half in the high-yield PM 1218 BG/RR. He says the ST 4793R appears to be holding its own in yield potential.
  • ST 4892BR — An early-mid-maturing variety with Bollgard and Roundup Ready traits. “We've picked some 4892 and 474 so far this year and both of them are doing real well,” said Jonestown, Miss., cotton producer Johnny Laney. “The first couple of fields of 4892 that we picked averaged 1,050 pounds and we've got some scrapping left.”
  • BXN 49B — An early-mid-maturity variety with Bollgard and BXN genes. “We like Roundup cotton, said Laney, “but morningglory control is one of our main problems. The BXN cotton (Buctril) is better on it than Roundup. And with Roundup, you have such a narrow window on when you spray, or you have to come underneath.”
  • White went with BXN47 to control cockleburs and smartweeds on three of his cotton fields in 2001. “It looks to me like it may be my best cotton.”

e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com.