North Carolina Cotton: 2020 On-Farm Variety Trial Results

Cotton in bloom. ©Debra L Ferguson

As we all know, every year brings its share of challenges, and 2020 brought us plenty. The 2020 planting season brought cool and excessively wet conditions throughout the entire planting window, which adversely affected cotton acreage in NC, as many growers were forced to take prevented planting, and/or to plant/replant many cotton acres to beans, and the cotton acres that were planted were noticeably later maturing than normal.

Plant growth began to show some promise in June, however first bloom for nearly all corners of NC collided with excessive heat and prolonged drought (in many areas) in July. Badly needed rains returned in August, and cotton began setting a strong top crop, albeit a late crop. By Labor Day, our yield potential was strong if we could mature this top crop.

Unfortunately, September and early October brought abnormally cooler weather, slowing progress towards maturity. On the right side, we were able to dodge direct hits from any major tropical storms, and we only had to face remnants of storms that hit the mid-south. Additionally, late October brought warmer weather and most areas did not experience their first frost until early November, which is later than normal for most areas.

Surprisingly, we were able to open bolls much better than expected, although these top bolls were smaller than normal.

Yields are variable, with some very acceptable yields, and some less than desired. There haven’t been many “home-run” yields this year, for the aforementioned reasons. Despite the struggles of 2020, we were able to successfully complete another year of the NC On-Farm Cotton Variety Evaluation Program, with several trials, but not as many as in previous years.

The final lint yield results are now available. This program was once again a success in 2020, thanks to the substantial support from the NC Cotton Producers Association, N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, NC State University, our Seed Companies, and Cotton Incorporated.

This program was only made possible through their leadership and support, and the significant effort from our county agents, consultants, and cooperating growers through implementing this program in several trials across the state. The contributions of all involved are much appreciated, and will have significant impact on our growers’ bottom line as we look forward to a hopefully more prosperous 2021 season.

As in years past, this on-farm program consists of the most widely-adapted and best-fit varieties for NC cotton growers as determined by our leading seed companies. It is always advised that variety decisions be based on multi-environment and multi-year replicated data in order to identify varieties with a high degree of stability (strong performance across a wide range of environmental conditions and years).

As a standard practice, it is always wise for growers to choose several varieties and position those varieties in environments where they are likely to perform competitively. It is also advised that growers observe data from both the on-farm program and NCSU Official Variety Trials (OVT) which will be available very soon.

Both programs serve as platforms for effective evaluation of variety performance but are different in several regards. One of the primary strengths of the on-farm program is the vast number of environments that are effectively captured in a given season. However, OVT can accommodate many more varieties than we can effectively evaluate in an on-farm trial, and many of our seed companies have several competitive varieties (including brand new, recently released varieties) available for NC producers, many of which are evaluated in OVT.

Together, the On-Farm and OVT programs collectively offer growers a complete platform for making variety decisions. Within the 6th year of this program alone, the on-farm program again has clearly demonstrated that variety selection is one of the most important decisions a grower can make that will significantly impact their profitability in a given year.

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Depending on the degree of variety selection error, the 2020 on-farm trials clearly illustrated that producers could lose an average of $76 to $166 per acre due to improper variety selection, with a potential statewide economic value of $25,840,000 to $56,440,000!! Keep in mind, that these figures are based on performance of the best varieties from each brand, therefore a producer could do much worse than this by choosing a less competitive variety.

Variety performance information will be discussed in much greater detail during the upcoming winter meetings (look for meeting dates/locations for your county at your local county extension office or on the NCSU Cotton Portal Website…meeting dates and locations should be listed very soon). Additionally, your local county agent is an excellent resource for variety selection, so please contact them for your local trial results and they will be happy to share those results with you.

Additionally, the NC Cotton Variety Performance Calculator, launched in early 2016, is an excellent resource for growers to use to make customized variety comparisons based on geographical region, yield environment, years or multi-years, and trial type. The calculator is now updated with lint yields of the 2020 On-Farm trials and the HVI data on-hand at this point in time. The calculator will be updated with HVI and OVT data as soon as those results are in.

The slide below offers a very general summary of variety performance across the state. Variety performance data will be dissected in much greater detail and by region in the upcoming winter meetings. This year especially, growers should focus more on factors such as stability characteristics, with special attention given to multi-year data, given the abnormal challenges of the 2020 season, versus focusing on the overall variety ranking of single-year data alone.

There are several ways to approach and observe 2020 variety performance data, and this will be explained thoroughly during meeting season. Therefore, growers might want to hold off on making any definite variety decisions until these various approaches can be discussed thoroughly during winter meetings. However, the slide below can be used as a very general summary for now.

2020 On-Farm Cotton Variety Performance Summary (PDF)

In this slide, varieties are ranked in descending order according to average yield across all trials in the analysis. Varieties with yields highlighted in green indicate that yields were above average across all locations. The percentage of trials in which a variety performed at the top, within the top 2, within the top 3, and most importantly, within the statistically highest yielding group are also shown.

As mentioned earlier, individual trial results can be obtained from your local county agent and in the variety calculator. Results for OVT and fiber quality will be available soon. Again, growers are also encouraged however to observe multi-location and multi-year data before making variety decisions. Due to the clear variation in performance between trials and years, it is not wise to base variety decisions on results from a single trial or even a small number of trials.

Again, results from the on-farm program along with OVT will be discussed in much greater detail during the upcoming winter meetings, so be sure to attend one near you. Also, we want to again reiterate our appreciation to all of our leadership organizations (NC Cotton Producers Association, NCDA&CS, NCSU, Cotton Inc.) and Seed Companies for their efforts and support in this program for the benefit of all NC cotton growers, as well the diligence and hard work that our county agents, consultants, and cooperating growers put into this program during 2020.

This program was a success again in 2020 due to the efforts of all involved and we look forward to another year of this program in 2021, with hopefully fewer challenges!




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