Writer: Tim W. McAlavy, (806) 746-4051,firstname.lastname@example.org
COLLEGE STATION — Despite the latest advancements in biotechnology, seed quality remains the primary determinant in producing a cotton crop with good yields and lint quality, according to panel of cotton growers and scientists addressing planting seed technology at the recent Beltwide Cotton Conference.
“A good start is essential in getting a good crop, and good seed is the key in getting a good start,” said Texas cotton grower and panel member Mark Williams. “No matter where we go with biotechnology and plant breeding, seed vigor is still what makes or breaks your crop.
“In West Texas, our best insurance for seedling vigor are planter-box seed treatments. We typically plant double- or triple- treated seed under less that ideal planting conditions. As a result, we need to be able to judge seed quality according to tests such as warm-cold germination indexes.
Williams challenged seed company representatives on the panel to help producers gain uniform lab testing procedures in warm-cold germination tests and to provide this data on seed labels. He also challenged seed companies to produce early cotton varieties that are comparable in lint quality to traditional, later-season varieties. And he said that technology fees charged by seed companies must be fair to producers.
“We are all struggling with higher input costs. In the future, I hope seed companies will offer growers a replant credit or perhaps refund of seed technology fees in years when weather causes a full or partial crop loss,” Williams said. “And I hope seed companies will offer both BT and non-BT cottons as they continue to develop new, transgenic varieties.”
Dr. John R. Gannoway, a cotton breeder with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station in Lubbock, emphasized the need for public researchers to remain involved in germplasm development. He also encouraged producers to bank first on seed quality, noting that field trial and variety demonstration results offer the best means for producers to evaluate new varieties.
“We started evaluating transgenic cottons on a large scale on the Texas South Plains last year and found that some had definite germination and emergence problems compared to conventional varieties,” Gannoway said. “Based on my experience in our field tests, I would recommend that growers choose only those transgenic varieties that rate excellent in warm-cold germination tests. And I would caution producers to evaluate physical seed quality carefully. By no means would I plant cracked seed of any variety, especially the transgenics.”
Gannoway also noted that Texas Agricultural Experiment Station cotton breeders are working to develop new cotton germplasm with better seedling disease resistance and improved lint quality traits.
William R. Meredith, cotton breeder with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Stoneville, Miss., said that cotton genetics have reached a plateau in terms of producing new varieties with higher yield potential.
“We haven’t seen any substantial improvement in yield potential through genetics in the past 15 years. Even so, producers now have a wide range of new, transgenic varieties to choose from–varieties resulting from back-crossing,” Meredith said. “In 1998, transgenic cotton varieties accounted for 45 percent of the nation’s total planted cotton acres.
“I don’t have anything against transgenic varieties, but I would caution producers and researchers to evaluate these new varieties in field tests designed to truly gauge their field performance–not by criteria developed in the past for conventionally bred varieties.”
Steven Hawkins, Delta & Pine Land Company, and Thomas Hughes, Stoneville Pedigreed Seed Company, assured producers that transgenic and genetically engineered cotton varieties won’t fully replace conventional varieties in the seed market in years to come.
“We will continue to aggressively market conventional varieties, but at the same time our researchers are working to develop more transgenic varieties to meet producers diversification needs,” Hawkins said. “We also are working to develop and make available more variety-specific management guidelines for transgenic cottons.
“We also are committed to making a large database of cotton management and production information available to growers through the World Wide Web. As it develops, that database will include information from both public and private-sector researchers and cotton breeders.”
Hughes said that seed companies have increased funding for conventional and biotech cotton breeding ten-fold in the past few years.
“We have no intention of phasing out conventional varieties and offering only transgenic cottons,” he said. “Our long-term goal is to develop a better arsenal of cotton germplasm for public and private- sector cotton breeders. That is the future of developing improved cotton varieties through ‘pedigreed’ breeding.”