FiberMax is planning a limited commercial launch of its Liberty Link cotton varieties in time for the 2003 growing season.

The company, which is expecting regulatory approval of the transgenic variety sometime during the fall of 2002, says larger volumes of its Liberty Link cotton will be available to growers in 2004. FiberMax is also planning a very limited launch of its second generation Bollgard cotton in 2003.

“We're going to be introducing a lot of new cotton varieties in 2003,” FiberMax sales manager Lee Rivenbark said at the company's field day in Greenville, Miss. “We have access to any biotech trait that will be in the market within the next 10 years.”

A new post-emergence herbicide system, Liberty Link cotton has a genetically based resistance to Liberty herbicide. With this system, growers can spray Liberty over-the-top to control a broad spectrum of weeds and grasses including, pigweed, sicklepod, cocklebur, morningglory, hemp sesbania, barnyardgrass, and johnsongrass. The Liberty Link system also offers growers a wide window of application with excellent crop tolerance.

Liberty Link cotton varieties currently under development by FiberMax have been derived from existing conventional lines with superior yield and quality characteristics, and are very similar to their parental lines in both yield and fiber quality.

While FiberMax is continually searching for new and better biotechnologies to introduce into new germplasm, its top priority at present focuses on the development of the glufosinate resistance trait that will be marketed as Liberty Link cotton.

Liberty Link offers growers an excellent tool to prevent weed shifts and the need for new weed management systems, and fits well in production trends toward decreased tillage and pre-emergence herbicide treatments. “The combination of superior genetics with a safe, unique and effective herbicide system will provide greater sustainability for cotton growers in the future,” the company notes.

Current research trials pit five germplasm lines with the transgenic Liberty resistance trait against conventional cotton varieties. Trials to date have indicated there is no detrimental effect on the cotton plant when Liberty is applied over-the-top, with one application at the three to five leaf stage, and a sequential application at 10 to 20 percent bloom. Herbicide treatments in the trial were made at both the proposed recommended rate and at a rate three times greater. The first herbicide rate is to mimic typical high-rate grower application, and the second, higher rate, is to demonstrate crop safety.

Jeff Gwyn, director of research for Bayer Cotton Seed International in Leland, Miss., says, “In the next couple of years you're going to see all new varieties with new germplasm. We will not sacrifice fiber quality in our effort to deliver new technology to growers through our cottonseed.”“Throughout the breeding process, the primary focus is the development of agronomically superior varieties with excellent fiber quality. Our belief is that growers should not and will not sacrifice agronomic performance and fiber quality in order to benefit from transgenic technology,” he says.

The company's 90-acre farm on Deer Creek's ice cream soils enables FiberMax to produce cotton varieties with wide adaptability over regions and soil types, the company says.

Rivenbark says he is excited about Bayer's recent acquisition of FiberMax. “Bayer is committed to agriculture, even in the current challenging economic times. The key ingredient that made this acquisition attractive to Bayer was FiberMax's position and products in biotechnology.”