An Alabama Cooperative Extension System cotton expert says one new cotton variety under study offers great advantages to Tennessee Valley producers, but with one proviso. The new variety, known as Deltapine 444 BT/RR, is an early maturing variety under study at the Tennessee Valley Research and Extension Center in Belle Mina.

"Cotton quality (associated with this variety) is much improved over a lot of the early varieties we plant now," says Charles Burmester, an Extension agronomist based in Belle Mina. Yields have been good, and it appears to fit in very well with growing conditions in the Tennessee Valley.

Burmester presented his findings on Deltapine 444 and other cotton varieties at the Alabama Cotton Field Day, held recently at the Tennessee Valley Regional Research and Extension Center in Belle Mina.

Even so, Burmester says, the variety possesses one characteristic that he finds "disturbing." "Yields were good on this variety, but we found it has the tendency to do this," he says, as he runs his index finger along an unusually steep cleft in the stalk of the plant. "Most of the time, you see a variety like this and you think, well, thrips got on this or we hit it with a tractor. Even plant bug damage looks a lot like this."

As it turns out, test plots conducted last year revealed that about 20 percent of plants in this variety displayed the same sort of terminal splitting.

"They don't know exactly why," Burmester stresses. "Since this splitting occurs at about the fourth node, a lot of farmers might think it was due to Roundup treatment. But we checked out the plots, and that doesn't appear to be the case."

The same terminal splitting, in fact, showed up in both Roundup treated plots as well as those where the product was not applied. Burmester believes the problem stems from a physiological trait associated with the variety.

"You essentially get this period of time when it splits and doesn't put on any fruit, and you're going to have some delay," he points out. "And if it splits like that, it doesn't have as many nodes as regular cotton does. There tends to be a little shorter cotton in there in certain cases, and other cotton tends to out compete it."

The good news is that in test plots this year, Burmester has noticed a significant decline in terminal splitting, down to roughly 12 percent of the plants. Still, despite the problems associated with splitting, his overall opinion of the variety is positive. Deltapine 444, which has been tested under Roundup and non-Roundup treatments and in irrigated and non-irrigated fields, has continued to perform well.

Burmester and other researchers are trying to collect as much information as they can about Deltapine 444 because planting seed is expected to be available next year. Burmester also mentioned one other variety, Deltapine 555, a late-maturing plant that appears to be a little too late for North Alabama growing conditions and better suited to growing conditions in central and south Alabama.