Prospects of higher yields, improved fiber quality and potential market premiums have attracted dozens of North Carolina cotton growers to FiberMax varieties. Those who have gained experience with the new, conventional cotton varieties mingled with growers who want to learn more at a FiberMax field day in Scotland Neck, N.C., in late September.

Hosts Joe and Harris Josey grew three varieties of FiberMax cotton for the first time this year. Just prior to putting their picker in the fields, they were pleased with what they saw.

"We were looking for a conventional, full-season variety, so we decided to try 989. Then (Aventis CropScience representative) Randy Wilson asked me if I wanted to try two earlier conventional varieties. We planted some 966 and 958, along with the 989. We planted only about 150 acres of the FiberMax out of 1,700 acres. But if it turns out as good as it looks like it will, we'll plant more next year. Good conventional varieties are hard to come by. If we do everything right, conventional cotton is cheaper to grow. It's not easier, but it can be cheaper. We plant quite a bit a conventional cotton," Harris says.

He and his brother Joe pointed out the fields of compact Fibermax varieties, noting that they had applied no growth regulator to any of the new varieties. They applied from eight to 24 ounces of Pix to their other cotton.

They started the production process by incorporating Prowl and banding Cotoran, mixed with 30 percent nitrogen, behind the planter. They placed four to four and a half pounds of Temik in the drill and injected 13 gallons of 10-24-0 with sulfur and boron beside the row. They kept the middles clean with Bladex and sometimes Roundup Ultra applied under hoods. Cotoran directed under the row kept weeds controlled. If weeds persisted, they directed Cotton Pro under the row. They side-dressed with 28S and boron knifed in beside the row.

"It was simple to grow," Harris says. "All three varieties produced a compact plant with a good boll load."

Kinston, N.C., farmer Ben Scarborough has been gaining experience with FiberMax cotton varieties. He is particularly interested in the potential for improved profits through the FiberMax Cotton Growers Association.

"High fiber quality is everything," he says. "It's a consumer oriented world, and consumers want as much for their dollar as the gin wants for its dollar. The last thing the world needs is more poor quality cotton. We need to raise the bar so U.S. products can be exported competitively. At the end of the rainbow there should be a premium."

Members of the growers association are pooling their FiberMax cotton. The cotton will be marketed directly to mills by Hohenberg Brothers of Memphis. The cotton merchants intend to emphasize and promote the high strength, long staple and reduced short fiber content of the new cotton varieties.

Harris and Joe Josey have not yet joined the association. They intend to sell all of their cotton through their gin.

"I'm going to watch the association this year and see how they do," Harris says. "Right now I'm mostly interested in conventional cotton varieties that will make good yields and grade at least well enough so we don't take any discounts. If the association gets some good premiums this year, we'll take another look next year."

This is the third year that Nick Dickens has planted FiberMax 989 cotton. He is interested in evaluating the new, earlier maturing 958 and 966.

"So far I like the way the 989 has performed," Dickens says. "I sell my cotton through the Staple Cotton pool. They pay premiums based on strength and length and mic. FiberMax cotton has given us a high percentage of premium cotton because of the high strength. I haven't gotten into the FiberMax association because I'm already getting premiums for higher quality cotton."

Harvey Rouse Jr. planted 600 acres of 989 in Jones County, N.C., this year.

"I tried it last year because I wanted to save a little money," he says. "There are no tech fees with this conventional cotton. My cotton looked real good last year, even with the hurricanes, so I planted some more this year. It looks to me like this is one way we can deliver high quality cotton to our customers. I'm watching the association. I expect I'll join next year. It just makes sense that pooling a lot of his high quality FiberMax cotton should attract better prices from the mills that want the highest quality fibers."

Showing their commitment to developing FiberMax cotton varieties for the Southeast, Aventis CropScience manager of cotton seed sales and marketing, Lee Rivenbark, announced the opening of a new breeding station in South Carolina. Breeder Jeff Klingenberg will breed and test FiberMax varieties with both transgenic and conventional genetic material. The company hopes to have a Liberty Link variety available for growers by 2003. They are also developing Roundup Ready and Bt varieties.