Oklahoma Cotton: Making the Right Variety Choice for 2018 Planting

    Cotton planting. ©Debra L Ferguson Stock Photography

    Planning for 2018

    Variety Selection

    Selecting productive cotton varieties is not an easy task, especially in Oklahoma where weather can literally “make or break” a crop. Producers need to do their homework by comparing several characteristics among many different varieties, and then keying these characteristics to typical growing conditions.

    We can’t control our growing environment from year to year, but we can select the varieties we plant based on desired attributes. It is very important to select and plant varieties that fit specific fields on your operation. Don’t plant the farm to a single variety, and it is strongly suggested to try relatively small acreages of new ones before extensive planting.

    Variety Testing Publications

    If disease issues are not concerning, then scrutinize all possible university trial data that are available to see how a specific variety has performed across a series of environments, and if possible, across years. It is best to consider multi-year and multi-site performance averages when they are available.

    However, due to the rate of varietal release, many new varieties are sold which have not undergone multi-year university testing, or perhaps no university testing at all. Our 2017 variety testing program results are available here.

    Producers in north Texas who have an interest in Texas A&M AgriLIfe Extension Service testing results can find them here.

    When it comes to variety selection in our area, several factors are important to consider.

    Maturity (Earliness)

    Scrutinizing the relative maturity rankings provided by seed companies will be beneficial. Don’t expect a mid-full season cotton variety to perform well in a short season environment where an early or early-mid might generally work best. Many longer season cotton varieties are better adapted to areas with longer growing seasons, although significant gains in yield may sometimes be obtained in years with warm September and October temperatures.

    Longer season varieties will typically do much better when planted earlier and then provided an excellent finish. For later plantings, early-mid maturity varieties may be better, and for late plantings or replant situations, early maturity varieties may be better. Relative maturity for most varieties gets compressed when moisture stress occurs.

    AgFax Weed Solutions

    In other words, under drought stress, maturity of longer season varieties will not be expressed to the degree that would generally be noted when under high water and fertility regimes.


    Yield potential is probably the single most important agronomic characteristic, because it drives profitability and provides for the safety net of higher actual production history (APH) in case of catastrophic loss of acres. The benefit this can provide from the crop insurance perspective is important in our high risk area. Yield stability across environments is going to be important, and basically what we want to find is a variety that has the ability to provide high yield across varying water inputs.

    Fiber Quality

    Producers should also consider lint quality. We have made a lot of progress in terms of fiber quality over the last several years. As a matter of fact, it is simply unbelievable how far cotton breeders have “moved the bar” for yield and quality while simultaneously introgressing transgenic traits. It is not unusual today to find many upland varieties adapted to our area which exhibit near acala-cotton quality.

    Staple is generally good to excellent for most new varieties. A lot of things can affect crop micronaire. These factors can include overall environment, planting date, variety, early season fruit loss with later compensation, excessive late season irrigation or rainfall, seedling disease, early season set-backs due to hail damage, blowing sand, thrips, etc.

    Fiber strength has also significantly improved and many newer varieties tend to be at least 30 g/tex. Length uniformity can be affected by staple, maturity, and harvest method (picker harvested typically higher than stripper harvested). Higher maturity fiber generally results in better uniformity. Leaf grade can be affected by density of leaf hairs on specific varieties in some years.

    Generally, cool, wet fall conditions can lead to lower quality leaf grades for varieties which tend to be hairy. In drier harvesting environments these differences tend to diminish. Color grades are basically a function of weathering or exposure of the fiber on the plant to wet conditions.

    The highest quality that a cotton boll can have is on the day that it opens, and after that, if conditions favor microbial growth (warm, wet conditions) or if an early freeze affects immature cotton, then color grade quality will likely be reduced. Bark contamination is generally also driven by significant late season rainfall followed by a freeze.

    In some years this can’t be easily managed if stripper harvested. Conversely, picker harvesting can significantly reduce or eliminate bark contamination.

    Storm Resistance

    Storm resistance is still a concern for growers in our area. Even though many producers have selected less storm resistant cotton varieties over the last several years, and generally done well with those, the overall management system the producer adopts can be important. Under significant moisture stress on dryland, some newer varieties may provide an unacceptable level of storm resistance, especially if the field is “left to the freeze.”

    Producers planning to execute a sound harvest aid program as soon as the crop is mature can probably grow some fields of less storm resistant cotton. However, having large acreages of varieties with low storm resistance might be a prescription for disaster if the right environmental conditions align at harvest. Do not plan to leave looser open-boll cottons in the field until a freeze conditions the plants for harvest. Unacceptable pre-harvest lint loss is likely to result.

    Higher storm resistance varieties are better adapted to our harvesting conditions and they are more likely to survive damaging weather prior to harvest without considerable seed cotton loss. Inquire about the storm resistance of any variety on your potential planting list.

    If you do choose a variety with low storm resistance, plan and budget ahead for a good harvest aid program that will let you achieve an early harvest. Good storm resistance data are now being provided by most companies and we evaluated all variety trials for this attribute in 2016.

    Disease and Nematode Resistance/Tolerance

    Producers should likely not plant the entire farming operation to one cotton variety. A question should be “do I have plant diseases or Root knot nematodes in this specific field?” Although we have not been able to identify substantial acreage with this pest in Oklahoma, varietal tolerance or resistance will be critical for managing this. One thing to consider is whether you know which disease is present. If you have a problem with a wilt disease and don’t know what it is, then you need to have the problem identified.

    If known Verticillium wilt pressure is present, then take a look at Dr. Terry Wheeler’s and Dr. Jason Woodward’s data from several locations investigating variety performance under constraints from this particular disease. The same should be considered for Fusarium wilt/Root-knot nematode issues. Many times varieties which do well under Verticillium wilt pressure may not be the same ones which rise to the top with Fusarium or Root-knot nematode pressure.

    Bacterial blight is an occasional problem in the region. There are several varieties out there that can provide high levels of resistance/immunity. To determine the disease reaction of many currently available varieties, visit the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center Website here: Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center .

    Biotech Trait Types

    Producers should ask themselves “which herbicide-tolerant system do I want?” The list of transgenic trait and herbicide options has recently increased with the availability of new many triple-stacked herbicide tolerant varieties and recently labeled herbicides.

    Only specific herbicide formulations that are labeled by the EPA can be used in XtendFlex cotton and in Enlist crops (corn, soybeans, cotton). NON Labeled dicamba and 2,4-D formulations is an illegal application.

    It should be noted that dicamba and 2,4-D are absolutely different herbicides. Although dicamba and 2,4-D are both considered growth regulator (Group 4) herbicides, they are in different herbicide families (benzoic acid and phenyl-carboxylic acid, respectively). There is some confusion circulating concerning the tolerance of the XtendFlex cotton varieties to 2,4-D.

    It should be emphasized that XtendFlex cotton IS NOT TOLERANT to 2,4-D herbicides. Also, in a vice-versa manner Enlist cotton IS NOT TOLERANT to dicamba herbicides. All non-XtendFlex cotton varieties are susceptible to dicamba (and its drift or tank contamination) and all non-Enlist varieties are susceptible to 2,4-D (and its drift or tank contamination). This cannot be overemphasized. Following the labels for each of these system’s respective herbicides is critical. Producers must fully read, understand, and follow these labels before use.

    As for Bt caterpillar insect protection, VIP3A is now available in several varieties. Because of the lack of disruption of beneficial arthropods by insecticides used to target bollworms, aphids or other secondary pests will likely not be flared which is of considerable value. At least weekly insect pest scouting of fields planted to Bt technology is highly recommended.

    The agronomic capabilities of varieties containing the above listed herbicide tolerance and Bt traits continue to improve and the corresponding weed control systems can be very effective if properly executed.

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