Cotton is the crop that built Southern agriculture. That is a fact of history that no one can dispute. The crop is not only a source of fiber for clothing and a thousand other uses, but it also supplies a large portion of the protein and vegetable oil that end up in the human food chain.
Another attribute of cotton is that the crop is relatively “kind” to the soil in that it removes smaller amounts of the major soil nutrients than either corn or soybeans which are its biggest competitors for acreage. In recent years cotton has proven its adaptability and in many cases its preference for being grown in systems that include vary little or no tillage, allowing it to be grown on fields that would otherwise be considered as highly erodible.
This year cotton has shown itself to be at least as economically feasible as the other crops that are routinely grown in the South. Soybeans, corn, and rice are at or below the breakeven point in price given “normal” yields and production costs. Only cotton and peanuts are showing enough strength to encourage growers to move in their direction. Cotton is more economically attractive than it has been in over two years.
One of the main issues for those considering a return to cotton is the selection of a variety that will perform well in both yield and quality. The variety should offer the transgenic traits that fit well with the production systems being utilized on the farm.
Perhaps the simplest way to select a variety of any crop, especially cotton, is to plant the ones your most successful neighbors are planting. The problem is that those varieties may be in short supply, leaving you with the chore of selecting a winner from among the lesser popular ones.
Those of us who have worked with cotton for a long time know that there is no such thing as a “best” cotton variety because cotton varieties react differently to many factors including soil type, soil fertility factors, rainfall, heat, length of growing season, insect pressure, and others. There are usually something like a dozen different varieties that have the potential to be at the top of any given variety trial.
A grower who is faced with selecting among lesser known cotton varieties should review the results of trials that are close by. This will usually offer some good alternatives, but if this does not satisfy the issue the evaluation can be expanded to neighboring states. Varieties that yield within the top ten or twelve can be listed from trials in LA, MS, AL, TN, and AR.
I did this while preparing this article, and I was amazed at how similar the results were for varieties like DP1646, PHY444, PHY312, PHY333, DP1522, DP1518, DP1555, ST6182, ST4949, DG3385 when several locations were taken into consideration.
A big question is which herbicide traits are needed or preferred. I have not gone there, and I will leave that to the grower and the seed dealer to settle. They don’t need a third party involved with that.
The main question for 2017, at least in the Hills, is whether the variety is “Liberty Link” and tolerant to glufosinate. We may have to go with the dicamba and 2,4-D technologies in the future, but for now I feel we can deal with most of our resistance issues with the LL system.
For those considering conventional cotton there is really one choice that can be purchased, that being UA222. CT212 and CT210 are also available and have performed well in this region.
I have stopped short of making a “short list” for cotton, but I can visit with anyone who needs further help. Thanks for your time.