Floydada Texas cotton grower Eddie Smith left and Shawn Wade director of policy analysis and research Plains Cotton Growers Lubbock visit during a break at the recent Beltwide Cotton Conferences in New Orleans

Floydada, Texas, cotton grower Eddie Smith, left, and Shawn Wade, director of policy analysis and research, Plains Cotton Growers, Lubbock, visit during a break at the recent Beltwide Cotton Conferences in New Orleans.

Cotton farmers see seed vigor as a top priority

Cotton planting seed is major issue for farmers Competition for cottonseed production acres will increase Seed costs and number of options have increased

Cottonseed vigor and stand establishment are among the top priorities of producers across the cotton belt, according to a new Cotton Incorporated survey.

Forty-two percent of respondents cited the combination of seed vigor and stand establishment as a major problem, making it No. 6 on a list of 27 concerns. Another 40 percent rated the issue as a moderate concern. The sixth place ranking in the 2015 survey was the same as in a 2011 assessment.

Production costs topped the list of priorities, with 81 percent of respondents citing that as a major concern and 16 percent tagging it as moderate. Other concerns on the list were weed resistance to herbicides, weed control, cottonseed value, and spread of plant diseases and weeds. Rounding out the top 12 issues were consumer attitudes about agriculture’s impact on the environment, cotton’s tolerance to heat and drought, efficient use of fertilizer, adequate water supply, variety selection, and plant bug control.

Kater Hake, vice president of agricultural and environmental research at Cotton Incorporated, Cary, N.C., reported the survey results in a Cotton Disease Council session at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in New Orleans. He focused on the cottonseed issue.

“The value of planting seed is critical for growers, and hyper-critical to seed companies,” he says. “All their biotech, regulatory, breeding, testing, and production investments are rolled into that bag of seed — they must sell seed to recover their investment.” They also sell germplasm or traits to other seed companies.

Seed production, like farming, requires a lot of elements to come together to create a successful outcome, Hake says. “But planting seed has two extra dimensions; seed quality is sensitive to weathering and processing damage. And purity is overwhelmingly important.”

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SEED COSTS HAVE SOARED

Technology has changed the planting seed industry. Hake says before biotechnology, saved seed was a common practice and “put a cap on seed costs and investment.” In 1995, more than 80 percent of plantings by West Texas farmers were from saved seed. In 2015, saved seed was less than 1 percent.

Seed costs have also soared, from $20 to $50 per bag in 1995 to $200 to $500 (including biotech fees and superior insecticide seed treatments) a bag last year. But farmers have more choices. In 1995, seed companies released about five varieties per decade; today, they’re releasing from 50 to 100 new varieties every ten years.

Before biotechnology, cottonseed stayed on the market a long time. Hake says DP 90 hung around for 20 years. The life cycle of recently released varieties is much shorter. “Now, we see a rapid turnover of varieties, as growers want the latest trait packages, and the industry is able to assess purity at a very high level. We can detect off-types to any level desired. Traceability and identity preservation are critical.”

Field operations for seed production are closely monitored, Hake says. “Planting seed is produced by fiber growers. That’s different from corn seed production.” Producers may receive a premium for planting seed. “They move planting seed fields around to prevent volunteer plants.”

Seed company experts do in-field testing to assure traits and prevent contamination, he says, and most cottonseed purity loss is from mixed seed instead of pollen flow.

CRITICAL FACTORS

Field and climate selection are critical factors for planting seed production. Others include irrigation, minimal risk of hurricanes and hail, high yield environments, and low humidity at harvest.

“Seed cotton moisture is critical because seed deteriorates much faster than fiber,” Hake says. “Dry seeds retain vigor in storage. It’s important to test modules for moisture to avoid seed deterioration.”

Gin cleanout before running planting seed is a must, as is adjusting equipment to account for small-seeded varieties.

Australia produces the best seed quality, Hake says.  California and Arizona are next in line, followed by fully-irrigated West and Central Texas locations, and then the central Delta.

Protecting seed after harvest also requires attention, including applying two or three fungicides and a seed storage insecticide application. Introduction of systemic insecticides “requires careful seed loading assessment,” he says, “and the cost of seed treatment and disposal encourages just-in-time processing.”

Competition for planting seed acreage will intensify, Hake says. “We already see robust competition for trait acres, based on yield and fiber quality gain. With three independent trait packages, we anticipate even more competition for acres.”

He expects other issues in planting seed to include improved seed quality information, expanded testing for seedborne pathogens, and borrowing innovations from vegetable and corn seed. Another innovation, he says, is a new brush delinter developed for breeders and foundation seed that does not damage planting seed.

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