Sure, prices may be disappointing right now. But yields are looking good across the Cotton Belt, and there is still some optimism for a good cotton year in 2015. That means it’s time for growers to spend a little time on variety selection for next season, with an eye on profitability.
“Variety selection has changed over the years,” recalled Fred Bourland, professor and director of the Northeast Research and Extension Center in Keiser, AR. “A few years ago, we pretty much looked at yield, gin turnout and a little bit of fiber properties. Now, it begins with the technology choice. And that pretty much drives the management of the season.”
This is especially true in areas of heavy resistant pigweed infestations. But one constant remains the same. Growers always want a high-yielding variety.
“Variety selection, especially with the technology options available now, is the most important decision a grower will make all year,” said Gaylon Morgan, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension cotton specialist. “There are a lot of new varieties coming on the market. Growers have to select varieties based on yield, but we can’t forget about quality. And when we’re talking about yield, we always recommend that producers look for yield stability in their varieties.”
For planning purposes, there’s plenty of information available for growers to consult.
“We have a lot of performance data,” stated Darrin Dodds, Mississippi State University Extension cotton specialist. “I think we can make improvements from a variety standpoint in terms of where we place them based on soil texture and soil type, as well as how we manage them with water to help increase profitability through either reduced electrical or diesel fuel usage. And, with plant growth regulators, any time you can save an application is going to help.”
Bourland adds that variety selection is becoming a field-by-field decision.
“If I have heavy pigweed pressure, I’m going to go with a Liberty variety, because growers in some areas can’t afford to go out there with hoe hands,” he pointed out. “That just doesn’t budget now. But without pigweed, I think there are some options for conventional cotton. If you’re away from worms and don’t have heavy pigweed, I think it’s a very viable option to consider.”
Morgan agrees that growers should select varieties based on their conditions and review data from as many locations as possible. He also suggests that growers plant a diversity of varieties to help spread risk, using several maturities to help smooth out timing at harvest.
And, he says, don’t discount the value of fiber quality.
“Farmers are paid primarily on yield, but quality is something we should always pay attention to,” he stated. “We’re competing with countries worldwide on quality, and we need to preserve that market by continually raising that bar of cotton fiber quality. And, from the farmers’ perspective, planting varieties of good quality can either minimize their dockage or optimize their premiums.”
Dodds reminds growers that sometimes it’s as simple as putting pencil to paper and keeping all other profit options in mind.
“Prices are down, and there’s nothing we can do about that,” he said. “When you sit down and look at the economics of it, corn is almost as expensive to grow as cotton. Because we are making such a good crop this year, it keeps cotton competitive in some people’s minds.
“Growers know what they can make yield-wise with these varieties,” he added. “Gin rebates have kept a lot of people growing cotton. If growers pick a three bale crop and can get $120 to $150 back per acre, that definitely gets their profit margin to a much better place.”