Research raises the bar on cotton yields and quality
You might call cotton breeding agriculture’s biggest juggling act. While high yields pay the bills, fiber quality is equally important and judged on multiple parameters such as length, strength, color and uniformity. Stack it with the newest generation of genetic traits, and it’s still not guaranteed to deliver a profitable payload unless it’s carefully managed throughout the growing season. Yet progress has been steady. U.S. cotton farmers hauled in a record 869 lb. of lint per acre in 2012. Now, cotton breeders are planning an encore with new varieties, traits and research areas of emphasis.
Traits on the way. Cotton farmers can already choose from multiple herbicide and insecticide traits. The list of technology is destined to grow, says Jeff Brehmer, product manager for Bayer CropScience’s FiberMax and Stoneville brands.
"We’ll continue to add biotech traits, but we’re also working on nematode tolerance, yield stability, increased tolerance and even better spinability," Brehmer says.
Next year, Bayer CropScience hopes to release cotton varieties stacked with GlyTol (glyphosate tolerance) and TwinLink, which is a two-gene Bt trait that also confers tolerance to
Liberty herbicide. This trait combination will provide growers with two herbicide modes of action and two-gene insect control.
The move is significant for farmers because it will give Bayer CropScience a full suite of proprietary cottonseed traits that can compete with Bollgard II and Roundup Flex traited seed
offered by Monsanto Company.
The PhytoGen brand from Dow AgroSciences is also expanding its biotech trait options. The company plans to debut a next-generation WideStrike insect trait that will be the first three-gene Bt trait in the market. The Enlist trait is expected to clear the remaining regulatory hurdles by 2016. Cotton farmers will have a choice of three herbicides (glyphosate, glufosinate or 2,4-D) to control weeds.
An underlying benefit of these new traits is greater gene durability, says Duane Canfield, portfolio marketing leader for Dow AgroSciences.
"When we bring in multiple modes of action, you can extend the durability of the technology by lowering the chance of resistance," he says.
Nematode slayers. A pest too small to see but too large to ignore, nematodes continue to steal yields from cotton farmers. The Cotton Disease Losses Committee attributed a 2.5% national crop loss to root-knot nematodes alone in 2012.
With heavy hitter Temik insecticide now gone from the market, the burden of protection falls largely on seed treatments and varietal advances. In 2013, Monsanto’s Deltapine brand is including three variety candidates in its New Product Evaluator trials that were specifically bred to target root-knot nematode resistance.
"Seed treatments and breeding for root-knot nematode resistance are the way to go," says Greg Sikes, a Georgia cotton farmer. "The cotton industry has proven it can provide new technologies such as Bollgard and others that offer real benefits to farmers. New technology that helps us manage root-knot nematodes will be beneficial, and I’m anxious to see how these variety lines work in our fields."
Monsanto recently announced the name of its next trait platform, Bollgard II XtendFlex, which it hopes to have cleared for commercial planting by 2015. Farmers planting these varieties will be able to choose among the glyphosate, glufosinate and dicamba products. Monsanto is developing two herbicides in conjunction with this system (both pending regulatory approval): Roundup Xtend, a dicamba and glyphosate premix; and XtendiMax, a stand-alone, low-volatility dicamba formulation.
It’s a good time to be involved in the cotton industry, says Canfield with Dow AgroSciences. "We’ve seen a lot of changes over the past five years, and we expect even more in the next five years," he says.
You can e-mail Ben Potter at email@example.com.
To learn more about industry efforts to reduce and reverse herbicide resistance in cotton, visit