Researchers at Bayer CropScience have also made great strides in their water research efforts. Company representatives say the drought has certainly intensified their efforts, but with the FiberMax brand, water use efficiency has always been a priority.
“Over the years we have always tested our varieties under dryland and irrigated conditions,” says Bayer CropScience Principal Agronomist Kenny Melton. “In recent years, as water tables have dropped due to the drought, we have increased our testing efforts at more limited irrigation scenarios. More and more, growers find themselves with reduced irrigation capacity, and we are working hard to identify the varieties that give the best return on their water investment.”
The strategy for Bayer CropScience lies in cotton breeding. Researchers work to identify pre-existing traits in some cotton lines that make them more efficient with their water use.
“The focus of our program is native sources of drought tolerance,” says Craig Bednarz, Bayer CropScience manager of west Texas cotton breeding. “We are screening new and old cultivars, elite germplasm, new lines currently under development and even more exotic material for native sources of drought tolerance.
“Once identified, these sources are used in the development of new lines and tested in our West Texas breeding program,” says Bednarz. “Many Bayer scientists are working on this objective in cotton as well as other crops.”
Since 2007, Bayer CropScience has been conducting on-farm Cotton Agronomic Performance (CAP) trials to, among other things, evaluate their existing varieties against the varieties that are advancing through their pipeline. As a result, Melton says, the company can say with certainty that water use efficiency has improved with new variety introductions over the years.
Ultimately, according to Bednarz, year over year improvement gives researchers something to strive for with each new group of variety introductions. There is no pre-determined finish line for cotton breeders.
“New variety development is a continuous process, and improved cotton varieties are developed using the genetics of former breeding programs,” Bednarz says. “Current advances in cotton drought tolerance will also continue to be improved by future cotton breeders and geneticists. Because variety development is an ongoing process, I don’t necessarily see an end-game.”
Back at his office in Plainview, researcher Bob Glodt says growers should seek to learn as much as they can about water if they hope to succeed during especially dry seasons.
“Two things are going to happen in the future,” Glodt says. “Number one, growers are going to have to learn to tailor their irrigation based on potential of evapotranspiration, or PET – in other words, applying more when the crop is in higher demand and less when it’s not, rather than just irrigating and keeping going without modifying it.”
In keeping with the theme of his trial work with Monsanto, Glodt stresses the importance of doing your homework.
“And then the second thing, I think, they’re going to have to look more closely and consider these varieties that have shown to have potential under each different irrigation regime.”