Are the stars aligning for a revival of conventional cotton varieties? It could be for producer Keith Mayberry, who farms around Essex, Mo. This season, he planted 200 acres of AM UA48, a conventional variety developed by University of Arkansas plant breeder Fred Bourland, which was subsequently commercialized by Americot.

The variety boasts some interesting fiber properties – a staple range of 39-41, which is solidly in the premium range, and strength of 34-35. As the season was coming to a close, yield potential was also very promising for Mayberry.

Mayberry farms about 800 acres of cotton, 1,000 acres of corn, and 1,200 acres of soybeans, with his sister, Kim Mayberry-Holifield, a sales representative for BASF for over 20 years.

Three factors pushed Mayberry, a third-generation farmer, toward the conventional variety –glyphosate-resistant weeds, new chemicals that control the worm pests targeted by Bt cotton and Mayberry’s constant search for efficiency.

“We are out a lot of money from seed companies for the glyphosate-resistant and Bt technologies,” Mayberry said. “I don’t know that we are getting our money’s worth. That’s one reason why I jumped on the AM UA48 bandwagon. The seed is so much cheaper without the tech fees. It’s given us another $80-$90 an acre that we can spend for extra herbicide or a worm spray or chopping.”

Mayberry said that the only additional expenses incurred with AM UA48 this season was an extra chopping and an application of Envoke for morningglories. “I had the Envoke expense in some of the Roundup Ready cotton, because Roundup was not controlling the morningglories.”

Going to a conventional variety would not be possible without an effective product for worm control. This season, Mayberry sprayed Dupont’s Prevathon one time on the AM UA48, as a preventative.

His consultants Kobin Worthy and Patton Embry liked what they saw. While scouting a conventional cotton variety definitely puts them on high alert for worms, “the Prevathon takes the monkey right back off your shoulders,” Worthy said. “It’s one of the better products I’ve checked behind.”

Worthy couldn’t say for sure how long Prevathon might control worms under very high pressure. “Our worm pressure was very light this year.”

Mayberry noted that managing a conventional cotton variety “may make my consultants’ job harder,” especially for insect control. In weed control, “we’re doing a lot of the same things in conventional cotton that we are doing in Roundup Ready cotton.”

In the fall, Mayberry will prepare the ground behind the picker. “We will completely destroy our beds with deep tillage. Then we’ll redo our beds and sow a cover crop, either deep-rooted radishes, rye or vetch.”

It’s not easy to get the cover crops on every field, Mayberry noted. “We’re at the north end of the Delta, so time is not your friend in the fall.”

Each cover has a place

Mayberry says radishes are put on fields where there is soil compaction, while rye’s allelopathic properties help with weed control. The vetch puts nitrogen back into the soil. All three covers help keep the fields clean.

A burndown that included Gramoxone was applied to take out cover crops prior to planting. This year, Mayberry put out Reflex pre-plant on all his cotton, but never received an activating rain. In Roundup Ready cotton, he followed that with a couple of applications of Roundup and a layby of Direx under the hoods. On his AM UA48, MSMA and Direx under the hoods controlled his weeds, under light pigweed pressure.

“We haven’t had as much pigweed pressure here,” Mayberry said. “You go south of us 25 miles, and they’re there. But they’re coming. The pigweeds are worse than I’ve ever seen them. I’ve had fields that I’ve chopped two to three times this year.”

He also put out two shots of the fungicide Headline on all his cotton, at pinhead square and mid-bloom, by ground rig.

“We first started putting out a fungicide six years ago for boll rot. It is a big issue for us, especially with furrow irrigation. I noticed that the fungicides weren’t helping with the boll rot, but it was helping with our late season diseases. Plus we noticed we were picking up an additional 150 pounds of cotton. That is a huge difference.”

The fungicide application is usually piggybacked with Pentia. “We use Pentia about halfway through the season, then go to a generic to cheapen up our PGR cost. A lot of our fields will have anywhere from 80 ounces to 100 ounces of plant growth regulator. This is some really strong dirt up here.”

Mayberry will usually puts out four shots of boron, and this year made four applications of a plant bug material.

Mayberry is picking his crop with a John Deere 7760 round bale harvester. He went in on the purchase with a neighbor to cut costs.

While this is Mayberry’s first attempt at conventional cotton, he’s far from a novice at it. “We’ve been raising conventional soybeans for the last 10 years. It’s been easy. We’ve been 50-50 on our corn, Bt versus non-Bt. There are some pretty good premiums to pick up. We picked up a $1.40 per bushel on the soybeans and 75 cents per bushel on the corn.”

He could pick up a little extra on the conventional cotton as well, with grades that are often in the premium range. “You take $80 or $90 in savings in seed costs and then the ups on the grades, you can spend a lot of money, and still be money ahead,” Mayberry said.

Now all he needs is a solid yield in the conventional variety. By mid-September, the crop looked promising. “My crop consultant thinks it’s probably one of the best varieties we’ve got at this stage. If that’s the case, we will plant 80 percent of our acreage in it next year.”

According to Americot Mid-South sales representative Rick Rebstock and Tom Brooks, plant breeder for Americot, traits for herbicide resistance and dual-gene Bt will be added to the variety. They said that the market will determine whether or not AM UA48 continues to be offered as a conventional variety.

erobinson@farmpress.com