By Del Deterling
Seed producers stand ready with improved germplasm
With futures prices more than a buck a pound, Jon Whatley has reason to love cotton again. After sharply cutting back acreage for several consecutive years, he boosted plantings this spring by nearly 1,000 acres above his 2009 low on the farm that he operates with his father, Robert, near Odem on the Texas Coastal Bend.
His optimism is echoed by growers across the Cotton Belt, many of whom abandoned cotton for more lucrative grain crops and soybeans in the past decade. Recent USDA Prospective Plantings reports project this year’s plantings at 12.6 million acres of cotton, a 14.5% increase from 2010.
Steadfast. Fortunately for Whatley and other growers, the companies that produce seed did not abandon the industry. Neither did they stand still while the global recession took the steam out of the cotton market. The selection of varieties with the latest traits and seed genetics is greater than ever. Producers can choose from multiple varieties adapted to specific climatic conditions and resistance to insects and herbicide damage.
Three companies provide the majority of the cotton seed for the U.S.: Monsanto Company (Deltapine), Bayer CropScience (Stoneville and FiberMax) and Dow AgroSciences (PhytoGen).
Monsanto’s acquisition of Deltapine in 2007 united a company with more than 90 years of developing cotton germplasm with the forerunner in developing technology traits. The fruits of this merger include dozens of varieties that contain either the Bollgard II insect-resistant gene or the Roundup Ready glyphosate-resistant trait, or both in Roundup Ready Flex cotton.
"Moreover, we license our Bollgard and Roundup Ready Flex cotton traits to other cotton breeders," says Monsanto spokesperson John Combest.
He adds that 200 growers across the Cotton Belt annually test new, but not yet commercially available, varieties through Deltapine’s new breeder evaluation program. The results from the tests of cotton grown under a range of growing conditions ensure that only the best varieties are released.
Combest says Deltapine never considered cutting back on its cotton breeding research during the period when farmers cut plantings.
"Deltapine has a longtime commitment to producing cotton planting seed for growers in the U.S.," Combest says. Even during tough times, he adds, there was always a solid base of U.S. cotton acreage for which growers needed to battle insects and weeds.
Bayer CropScience launched the FiberMax brand in 1998 and has developed it into the No. 1 cotton brand planted in the U.S. In 2007, Bayer also acquired the Stoneville germplasm from Monsanto and now boasts just more than 50% of the U.S. cotton planting seed market.
"Bayer CropScience had completed a strategic review prior to the period when cotton acres began to collapse," says Lee Rivenbark, Bayer’s global head of cotton seed and traits. "We had decided that we wanted to be a global leader in cotton, vegetables, rice and canola. We never looked back, but continued to grow market share and our product mix through crop protection and seed treatments and through seeds and traits.
Traiting up. "We had been marketing our LibertyLink cotton varieties since 2004," Rivenbark continues. LibertyLink varieties are resistant to over-the-top applications of Ignite (glufosinate) herbicide.
This year, Bayer CropScience introduced GlyTol technology, a trait that makes cotton varieties resistant to glyphosate herbicide. In addition, they coupled GlyTol with LibertyLink for the first dual herbicide-resistant cotton varieties. "These varieties are available with the Bollgard II insect-resistant gene as well," Rivenbark says.
Dow AgroSciences acquired the PhytoGen germplasm in 1998. With a major emphasis on improving yield, fiber quality and traits needed to reduce risks to farm profitability, Dow now has germplasm for the cotton market across the country, including upland, Acala and Pima varieties. The newest varieties offer proprietary WideStrike broad spectrum, season-long worm control, as well as Genuity Roundup Ready Flex.