Cotton growers continually look at yield, quality and characteristics when deciding which varieties to plant each season. The menu of traits and the various combinations available in the marketplace now add a whole new level to the variety decision.
“Growers are looking at varieties and traits and the full potential of what traits bring to them,” says Seth Byrd, cotton specialist at Texas A&M. It’s essential then, particularly with herbicide traits, to ensure a positive return on the investment. “Look back on what the value of that option is. Do I see it validating the increased cost? It better be good weed control for the amount of money you end up paying for it. You can find high-yielding varieties in any trait package out there on the market.”
The trait decision essentially is another element of the variety decision. Some of the questions are different. The goal is the same: choose the variety that offers the best opportunity for yield, quality and profit in each field. The right variety in the right field for the right yield is still the maxim to live by.
“You’re choosing a whole package,” says Darrin Dodds, cotton specialist at Mississippi State University. “The variety has to yield and it has to have the traits you need.”
Here are five questions to ask when evaluating traits:
- What’s the field situation? Dryland? Limited water? Irrigated?
"We farm our weakest dirt almost the same way we farm our strongest dirt,” says Jared Whitaker, cotton specialist at the University of Georgia. “The variety decision should be situational.”
- What are the options for managing the pest?
For many pests today – whether weeds or worms – more than one trait is on the market. What’s your risk if you don’t plant a variety with a worm trait? Will two genes offer the risk protection you need? Or do you need a third Bt trait? “The key still is to manage risk while limiting cost,” Byrd says.
- Can you provide timely management of the pest without the trait?
Worm pressure in most parts of Georgia, for example, is historically light. “Without worm technology, a grower needs to be able to spray his entire crop in three days,” Whitaker says. “A lot of these trait packages are worth it just for being able to manage all your acres.”
Growers need to be aware of worm pressure in their region and evaluate how well worm-resistance traits are performing.
“Give some thought to your Bt trait and utilize as much information as you can to make a decision. At least give some thought to the three-gene traits that are out there,” University of Mississippi Cotton Specialist Darrin Dodds says.
- What are the label restrictions?
“Look at the label,” Byrd says. “Can you use the product and stay on label? Think about the environmental restrictions. How difficult or easy is it to meet those conditions?”
Do the traits you want offer the characteristics you need?
For instance, growers in many areas must consider whether a variety is resistant to bacterial blight or has tolerance to Verticillium wilt.
“There’s a reason that you see bacterial blight resistant or Verticillium wilt tolerant varieties being priorities here,” Byrd says. “That’s definitely something that we don’t want to take off of our plate in terms of which varieties we consider.
“Any yield-robbing pest needs to be addressed – it doesn’t matter whether it’s a nematode, or a disease, or a weed. If we can do that through high-yielding varieties, then that’s the way it needs to be addressed.”
Byrd’s ultimate advice to growers who are evaluating traits?
“Look back on what the value of that option is. Ask: Do I see it validating the increased cost?"