The initial interest in conventional cotton varieties came in 2009, when a dozen or so cotton growers in Alabama planted several thousand acres of conventional seed. Though the acreage hasn’t grown significantly, there seems to be a niche for these varieties.

Richard Edgar, who grows cotton in central Alabama, was one of the first to experiment with the conventional varieties on part of his farm.

The Alabama grower says moving away from transgenic varieties was dictated by economics. “We have dryland cotton and problems with reniform nematodes. We just didn’t have the yield that would allow for the technology fee.

Edgar adds that after the boll weevil eradication program came along, he no longer had the need for the Bt. And, now that resistant weeds are a problem, the glyphosate technology has diminished in terms of value,” he adds.

The next group to try conventional cotton in a major way was a small group of growers in North Carolina.

In 2011, in North Carolina, researchers led by Entomologist Jack Bacheler found that controlling bollworms and stink bugs bumped yields for conventional cotton up to around 800 pounds of lint per acre in some parts of the state.

This is a significant yield bump over conventional varieties grown without insect protection, which averaged about half the yield of test fields treated with Karate Z or Leverage.

Bacheler says they got better than 90 percent insect control using both Leverage and Besiege and better than that with an experimental insecticide.

Though Karate Z didn’t produce the same level of insect control, tests treated with the insecticide did yield comparable to other treatments in the North Carolina tests.

For many cotton growers, planting conventional cotton is a step backwards and for some younger growers, planting transgenic cotton seed is the only cotton they’ve ever planted.

From a public perception standpoint, going back to conventional planting, which requires more use of pesticides may be a bad thing. Cotton is already being targeting by environmental groups as using more synthetic pesticides than any other crop.

Some activist groups contend cotton growers worldwide use nearly 25 percent of the total insecticides used worldwide.

Increased use of fuel and water are other negatives often thrown out by anti-farming groups, which all too often form the basis of public opinion about farming practices.

Cotton acreage showed a dramatic dip in acreage in 2012 in the Southeast and some contend a similar drop may be in store for the industry in 2013, unless the current price structure improves. Whether continued price volatility will create more niche needs for conventional cotton varieties remains to be seen, but it appears more options will be available to growers next year.

rroberson@farmpress.com