For Capron, Va., grower Lewis Everett growing cotton varieties a year before they hit the market is exciting and the results have been outstanding, but he’s not going overboard with the new stuff just yet.
Everett is one of 120 or so growers across the Cotton Belt selected to grow cotton varieties targeted for 2009 in on-farm, 15-20 acre test fields for Delta & Pine Land Company.
Deltapine provided seed with the Bollgard II and Flex technology that he planted. The company will release varieties Beltwide, based primarily on grower results in these fields, designed to produce at least one module of cotton lint.
Everett grew two of the 2009 class in 2008 — DP 0920 and DP 0924. The two varieties were similar, he says, with 0924 being slightly later maturing and a better fit for his farming operation. Both fall into the early- to mid-maturity group and were very similar in growth pattern, yield and quality, Everett says.
In addition to the 2009 class cotton varieties, Everett grew DP 444 as his standard variety, along with some Phytogen 375 and Phytogen 370 plus Stoneville 4427 and Stoneville 4498. Though most contend he’s too far north, Everett says the DP 555 he planted worked well on his farm on certain soil profiles.
There is no arguing the results. The 2009 class varieties were his two highest yielding varieties, producing about 300 pounds per acre more than the other varieties he grew in 2008. Both 2009 class varieties picked over 1,200 pounds per acre with the next closest variety in the 900 pound range.
“That’s just one year of data. It could have been timing of planting. Those varieties got a sporadic rain shower and other varieties didn’t — I’m just not ready to say the new varieties are always going to be 300 pounds per acre better than the varieties we have used the past few years,” Everett says.
“We will plant some DP 0924 this year, but we’re not going with it on all our acreage. For one thing, I’m not a big fan of Flex varieties, because we don’t have resistant pigweed problems on our farm yet, and can see the Flex technology as possibly antagonizing the potential” he adds.
“I have nothing but good things to say about the 2009 varieties, but I think it would be impractical for a grower to take one year of data on one or two farms in any area of the country and plant fence row to fence row based on that one year of data. I just don’t think many farmers are going to do that,” the Virginia farmer says.
He also says he was given no guidelines as to how to grow the 2009 class varieties. They were handled a little differently being Flex varieties, but in general there was no difference in how one variety was grown compared to another.
“We start out by keeping our potash levels high and put out our first nitrogen with our burn-down herbicide. We come back with a starter fertilizer on all our cotton, which is planted 100 percent strip-till. We come back and side-dress some more nitrogen right before bloom. Depending on the rotation, we shoot for somewhere around 120 units of nitrogen,” he explains.
He began using Valor in his burn-down program last year, and that has worked out well and helps avoid getting into resistance problems. He will likely use some Reflex this year for burn-down.
Monsanto’s Roundup Rewards Program has been popular with farmers in his area, the Virginia grower adds.
One of his biggest production problems in cotton in recent years has been stink bugs. One of the class 2009 varieties is nectarless, which is supposed to help on stink bugs. They didn’t plant any of the nectarless variety, but with the onset of double stack Bt protein genes, stink bug problems are likely to increase.
Everett will be growing cotton varieties this year that are targeted for the market in 2010. He says the outlook for these varieties is for even better yield and quality than the 2009 class.
He notes that Stoneville and other companies are coming out with new varieties based on limited data. Cotton growers, he says, would rather see a three-year average, but appreciate having access to so many good varieties.
“We’ve worked with Deltapine for the past four or five years growing on-farm small plots of 10-12 varieties. We like working on the bigger plots (they planted 15 acres of each variety). We grew 2009 class varieties just like we grew all our other varieties. It gives us a better comparison.”
Everett is a fifth generation farmer. His father is still active in the farming operation and his grandfather still works most days. They grow predominantly cotton and grain crops, plus a cow-calf operation and peanuts when the price is right.
“As soon as I could walk I had a fascination with tractors. I just took a liking to working on the farm at a young age and have never wanted to do anything else.
“I graduated from Virginia Tech in agricultural economics, and I remember in one of my college classes my professor asked me what I intended to do when I finished college. I told him I planned to go back to the family farm. He said that would be a big mistake. I remember telling him that would be a mistake I could live with,” Everett says with a laugh.
As a young farmer, Everett says his biggest challenge is determining which crops he can grow with a reasonable expectation of return. “How to grow it is not so much a problem anymore, but what to grow and how to market our crops is our biggest challenge,” he says.
Though the new cotton varieties he grew in 2008 produced over 300 pounds per acre more cotton than his other varieties, the Virginia grower says he doesn’t expect a drastic change in yield dynamics at this time as a result of the Class of 2009. However, the potential for yield increase is there with the new germplasm.
“The trend line is likely to go up and eventually there will be a chance of over-producing cotton. As long as the economy makes it possible for people worldwide to buy cotton products, the demand for cotton should increase, along with production,” he adds.
As a cotton farmer, it would be a nice problem to have right now — being able to consistently produce three-bale per acre cotton. Realistically, he says, that’s not a problem he will have to deal with right away.
Everett says their farm produced a good yield of cotton in 2008, but farm-wide their yields weren’t close to the 1,200-plus pounds per acre they produced with the Class of 2009 varieties.
The good news for cotton growers is that Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta and other smaller seed companies all have good varieties, giving growers a full toolbox of options, especially in the Southeast.
While some forecasts call for a further reduction in cotton acres in the upper Southeast, the loss of peanut acreage may well go into cotton. If that occurs on a large enough scale, there could actually be some increase in cotton acreage, though continued low prices make break-even a likely best case scenario.
Everett says 2009 will be a challenging year — one in which planting decisions are coming hard and late. Regardless of how many acres of cotton he plants, the Virginia grower says he’s optimistic he has the tools necessary to grow a good crop.