R.I.P., 555

December 14, 2009 06:00 PM
 

Charles Johnson, Farm Journal National Editor
 
Georgia cotton farmers, particularly, loved their Deltapine 555 variety. Introduced in 2003, DPL 555 quickly became the variety of choice on as much as 85% of Georgia's acreage. Now, 555 is going away forever.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is taking DPL 555 and all other single mode of action Bollgard cotton varieties off the market. Monsanto, which bought Delta & Pine Land Co., and its varieties in 2006, has just one-third of the amount of DPL 555 seed for the 2010 crop that it sold for 2009. After 2010, the single-gene Bollgard varieties can no longer be grown.
 
They're being replaced by Bollgard II varieties featuring two Bacillus thuringiensis genes that target worms. It's an effort to keep worms from building up resistance. Sounds good in theory, but farmers will miss DPL 555's ability to produce good yields across a wide range of conditions.
 
"555 is a very indeterminate variety. We've seen it make a crop very late in the season. Yield is consistently ahead of most other varieties out there,” says Richey Seaton, Georgia Cotton Commission executive director.
 
"Now growers are going to have to pay more attention to variety selection. There's a bit of apprehension about it being taken off the market,” Seaton says.
 
Any way you view DPL 555, it was a winner from start to finish.
 
"It hit the ground running. When it came on the market, it was already talked about as being the dominant variety. It had great yield characteristics whether on dryland or in irrigated environments. 555 did well regardless of what you threw at it, whether it was planted early or late. Yield was always excellent. If stressed, it had the ability to compensate,” says Glen Ritchie, University of Georgia research cotton physiologist.
 
555 originated in Australia in the plots of Richard Leske, a Delta & Pine Land Co., cotton breeder. The discovery brought him enough fame that U.S. cotton farmers sometimes gave him standing ovations when he spoke at meetings.
 
"It is a unique, different variety. It walked the line between storm-proofness and how clean it picked,” says Dave Albers, Monsanto's germplasm development lead.
 
A small-seeded variety with vigorous vegetative growth, its lint percentage exceeded that of other varieties.
 
"When Richard Leske, the Australian breeder, selected it, he didn't limit himself to what people thought a variety should look like. It was selected by the numbers. When many of us first saw it in the U.S., the reaction was negative: it was tall, late and small- seeded. We learned to be aggressive with plant growth regulants on this variety to keep it to the size we wanted,” Albers says.
 
Can 555 be replaced? Albers says Monsanto will market some promising new varieties in the next couple of years. Besting 555 may be tough, though.
 
"There are always new varieties in the pipeline. We see promising new ones from all the major seed companies. The question is how they hold up. It's difficult to dial in which varieties give the best yield over a wide range of conditions. There are definitely good varieties coming along but I don't see one coming to the market much as 555 did. I'd be surprised if there will be a variety that will have more than 50% of the market,” Ritchie says.
 
"555 may be a once in a career or once in a lifetime variety, but we have better tools to work with now and the investment is huge to get good varieties on the market. I hope to see some that rival 555,” Albers says.
 

 
You can e-mail Charles Johnson at cjohnson@farmjournal.com.
 

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