Since 2010, when Monsanto opened the doors of its cotton breeding and testing facility in Lubbock, the focus to develop better varieties in Texas, for Texas growers, has intensified.
Today, roughly 50% of the company’s cotton test plots are located in the Lone Star State. The test plots are located in all growing regions of the state, encompassing various soil types, water availability and all environmental stresses associated with cotton production. Monsanto’s stepped-up breeding and testing program in Texas has delivered improved genetics and potential for higher yield and better fiber quality in Deltapine® varieties, along with more complex biotech and native trait stacking.
The company has increased personnel in Texas to work on its breeder and commercial development line testing. The Breeder Line Testing team, led by line development breeder Nilesh Dighe, takes thousands of individual lines from Monsanto’s breeding programs across the United States and looks at how the lines perform in multiple small-plot settings across Texas.
Monsanto’s aggressive investment in newer technologies—such as genomic predictions, data analytics, and development of IT tools—and an excellent field testing network is enabling breeders to create and screen more breeding populations in the field, according to Dighe.
“This will allow us to develop varieties that are not only high-yielding with excellent fiber, but also have good vigor and storm tolerance, and carry resistance to root-knot nematodes, bacterial blight and Verticillium wilt,” he said.
After multiple years of evaluation, the Breeder Line Testing team advances individual varieties that meet high-level performance criteria to the trait introgression phase, where the lines are given biotech trait packages.
After trait introgression is completed, the lines are then planted, monitored and assessed for a minimum of two years by commercial breeders located throughout the growing regions of Texas. The data that is generated and collected during that time – there’s a lot of it – allows the testing team to make advancement decisions: the top-performing lines are either advanced to the Deltapine New Product Evaluator (NPE) Program for final evaluation or held back for more commercial development testing. Some lines are expelled from the program altogether.
Monsanto’s cotton breeding and testing program in Texas has become more streamlined and efficient over the years with the addition of personnel and resources, according to Darren Jones, a commercial development breeder for Monsanto. “Data collected during breeder line testing provides me with information about each variety, so I know how they’re supposed to perform or react to stresses and environments,” he said. “The entire process enables us to generate precise data packages for each of these lines. This gives us confidence about the lines’ fiber packages and performance potential before we recommend moving any of them into the NPE Program for final, pre-commercial evaluation in Texas.”
Texas has widely diverse growing areas throughout the state, from the High Plains to the Coastal Bend to the Brazos Bottoms. This geographical diversity poses challenges to breeders like Jones, as it also creates a multitude of different needs among cotton growers for varieties that can grow and perform in their unique, local conditions—hence, Monsanto’s local breeding and testing strategy.
Deltapine variety DP 1518 B2XF demonstrated the high performance required to make it through Monsanto’s breeding program to the marketplace. It offers early maturity and was proven to be a great fit in Texas, especially in well-irrigated, high-input environments. Today, about 80 percent of the lines that make it to commercial field testing are from the Texas breeding program, a significant mark for Monsanto’s Deltapine cotton business in Texas. There will continue to be a high number of lines bred in Texas moving forward through the breeding process, said Jones.
“I’ve been here for six years, and during that time, we’ve greatly expanded our testing footprint out here in Texas,” he said. “We have a plan to test our material across Texas. We have strategically placed employees in the outlying regions to help us grow the plots, collect the data and select for what we need to select for here in Texas. We have a significant effort coming out of the facility in Lubbock that has changed the game for Deltapine cotton in Texas. Over the next two to three years, we will see an avalanche of Texas-born, Texas-bred lines coming out of this program. We’ve set high standards for yield, quality and agronomics that these candidate lines must meet to qualify for the Deltapine variety lineup in Texas.”
The final phase of cotton variety testing—and what separates Deltapine cotton varieties apart from competitor commercial varieties—is the NPE Program, which brings together more than 60 cotton growers in Texas, representing all growing areas of the state, to evaluate the final variety candidates in their own large-acre trials, under their unique management systems.
The NPE Program is instrumental to the Monsanto cotton team’s ability to continually deliver better cotton varieties that meet or exceed grower expectations. Feedback from the NPE growers helps the team determine which candidates to commercialize and how to position those new Deltapine varieties on farms in different regions with various management programs.
The growers’ feedback is also relayed to the breeding team for consideration during future cycles of variety testing and advancement. Deltapine cotton varieties are proven to perform.