Cotton  farmers will have exciting new technology available within the next two to 10 years, including varieties with tolerance to an expanded list of insect pests and herbicides, as well as drought stress efficiency.
But along with new opportunities, advanced technology brings farmers new challenges in how they incorporate and manage new products, says Gaylon Morgan, Texas AgriLife Extension cotton specialist.
Morgan, addressing the cotton section of the Blackland Income Growth (BIG) conference in Waco, said variety selection remains one of the most important decisions farmers make all season. The up-front investment is significant, he said, and the varieties selected “dictate management for the rest of the season. In our variety trials, we’ve seen a yield difference of 15 percent to 30 percent between the best and worst varieties.”
He said growers should always look at variety trial data before selecting a new variety. “We also recommend looking at several years’ of data and data from multiple locations, if available. Also, consider the yield limiting factors (drought, etc.) on each test location.”
Farmers can expect some unique offerings from seed companies within the next few years. He mentioned the Bayer CropScience FiberMax and Stoneville GlyTol varieties, some of which will be available this year in west Texas. In the next few years, FiberMax and Stoneville offerings will include varieties with multiple herbicide tolerance — glyphosate and Ignite. Also, within two or three years, the GlyTol lines will include insect resistance genes.
Phytogen is moving forward with 2, 4-D tolerant cotton varieties. Delta and Pine Land will have Dicamba tolerant cotton varieties, as well as drought tolerance. “Drought tolerant cotton varieties are probably seven years away,” Morgan said.
He said 2, 4-D tolerant cotton could be available by 2015. “We have some concern with 2, 4-D tolerance because of stalk destruction and volunteer cotton in active boll weevil eradication zones in Texas." Phytogen also is working on stacked gene cotton varieties with VipCot technology that could be available by 2012.
A Bollgard III cotton variety from DPL with improved worm management capabilities is also in the works. Other possibilities include varieties with lygus and nematode resistance packages in the distant future.
“These new technologies offer significant opportunities for cotton farmers,” Morgan said. “For one thing, they offer opportunity for increased competition among the seed companies. They also provide numerous options to control troublesome weed and insect pests and with multiple modes of action, which helps prevent resistance in weeds and insects.”
He said new products should give farmers more flexibility and yield stability.
But new products also offer new challenges. “The costs and economic risks could increase. Up-front expenses likely will be higher as more technologies are incorporated into the seed. We’re also wondering if farmers will have to buy the complete package of technology or if they will be able to choose just herbicide resistance.
“Volunteer cotton and cotton in rotation crops, already a serious concern, could be more difficult to manage with these stacked herbicide tolerant technologies. He also voiced concern about volatility and herbicide drift to non-tolerant cotton and to other adjacent crops. Plant injury from glyphosate drift can be subtle, he said. Not so with 2, 4-D or Dicamba.
Chemical control for cotton stalk destruction, a crucial element in the Boll Weevil Eradication Program, could be hampered by plants that are resistant to the herbicides most commonly used to take out hostable cotton plants, including 2,4-D and Dicamba. “We need to look for other stalk destruction and volunteer cotton control options.” Farmers “have a short list” of products that will control volunteer cotton and kill cotton stalks.
Morgan touched on the possibility that some farmers are considering “avoiding the technology.”
He recommended caution. “If they (revert to just conventional cotton varieties) they face more unknowns and possible economic risks. Farmers will need a good game plan and more diligence for weed and insect management. They also need to look closely at potential yield and quality.”
Morgan cautioned growers, regardless of whether they plant transgenic or conventional seed, to make certain germination and vigor meet minimum standards. He recommended they use a cool/warm vigor test to evaluate germination. That test includes both a warm germination test and another that tests seed germination under cold conditions. The sum of the cool and warm germination test provides the cool/warm vigor rating, which should be at least 160. “Seed companies have these ratings, but you will have to ask for them.”
Morgan said farmers who have seed with “a range of quality” should plant the lowest quality seed last, in warmer soil. “Good growing conditions may compensate to some extent for poor quality seed.”
Morgan said planting conditions and seed quality affect emergence and yield. “Cottonseed planted with soil temperature at 50 degrees may take 20 days to achieve 45 percent emergence. Planted in more optimum conditions, emergence is closer to five to seven days.”
He said several other products and management options may be “on the cutting edge” for cotton farmers. Researchers are looking into GreenSeeker technology to aid decisions on plant growth regulator, defoliant and nitrogen application timing. “That technology has been successful in wheat,” he said. “But research reports at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences showed little economical potential so far. We’re not counting it out.”
He said VoTiVo, a biological seed treatment for nematode control, offers another potential cotton management tool. Researchers are looking at new possibilities for root rot control and a soil profile test for residual nitrogen to keep cotton competitive.
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