Choosing the Right Cotton Variety for Pitt County

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When Dr. Guy Collins, NC State Crop Science Extension Specialist, spoke to Pitt County cotton producers on February 6, he emphasized the importance of doing their homework when it comes to choosing cotton varieties for their farms. Although cotton acreage is expected to decline this year, it still remains that this decision alone can mean a difference of about $144 per acre for cotton farmers. Dr. Ryan Heiniger, Director of the NC State Official Variety Testing Program believes that varietal selection represents 65% of a crop’s yield potential and this potential is set at planting.

During the 2023 Pitt County Cotton Winter Production Meeting, growers were asked to name their top performing cotton variety in 2022. During this meeting, it was determined that Pitt County averaged 932 pounds per acre in their cotton last year. Despite a final cotton yield that surprised many farmers in a positive way, based on the varieties that were named, Pitt County cotton farmers can benefit from taking a closer look at their varietal choices for this spring.

A common strategy for a cotton farmer is to plant multiple (3 to 5) cotton varieties during a given season. The final number of varieties on a farm is dependent on the grower’s acreage, risk tolerance, and the ability to keep track of variety

Choosing the best cotton variety can mean a difference of $144 per acre.

performance. In North Carolina, the yield potential of cotton that is planted before May 25th is not affected as much by maturity as much as later planted cotton which has to be managed more closely for PGR management, insect pests, and drought stress. Cotton that is planted after May 25th is affected more by maturity due to a shorter time period in which to develop a crop before the last effective bloom date which occurs about August 25th through September 1st in Pitt County. Late planted cotton is more sensitive to, and responsive to, very timely management.

As Dr. Guy Collins pointed out on February 6th, the choice of a farm’s cotton varieties should be evaluated based on replicated trials, multiple field locations within a year, and when possible, multiple years of data. Over the past three years, based on Dr. Keith Edmisten’s Official Variety Trial Program (OVT), the top three yielding varieties were Armor 9371, NexGen 3195, and Stoneville 5091. Two of these three varieties have also appeared in Dr. Collin’s on-farm variety testing program, which also reflects consistent performance during at least two years.

Of these three top varieties, Stoneville 5091 should likely be planted on a higher percentage of a farm’s acreage based on the fact that it has appeared in both the on-farm program and OVT for multiple years, and has had positive, consistent performance. Other varieties that have shown strong performance, but have only appeared in the OVT or only in a single year, are certainly worth consideration. With these varieties, it is recommended to plant a lower proportion of acres to them. Stoneville 5091 B3XF has been a very consistent performer in both OVT  and on-farm trials for several years, and its strength as a cotton variety lies in its versatility in that it performs well in many different environments ranging from low yield, sandier ground, up to high yield, heavier ground. This variety was a top performer in both 2021 and 2022, which had very different growing seasons and can be planted with confidence with its yield potential compared to other varieties.

NexGen 3195 tends to be classified on the early end of cotton maturity but has also shown consistent performance across a broad range of environments and in multiple years. As an earlier variety, it should be positioned on heavier ground to ensure that it can produce an optimal stalk height and number of fruiting sites.

Lastly, rounding out the top 3 performers, Armor 9371 has commanded notable attention. It has only appeared in a few on-farm trials during the past couple of years, but has performed consistently well in the North Carolina Official Variety Test over a 3-year period. Its limitation may be that it may be hard to find when it’s time to fill the hopper in April. This variety is clearly worth consideration for planting, but until we know more about it, and the type of environment that it may have as a fit, planted acreage should be guarded. While these have been the top 3 performers over the past three years, there are several other excellent varieties that could be considered to make up the 5-count.

Running down the list, Stoneville 4595 B3XF has performed well and with consistency across environments in the 2022 on-farm trials. Deltapine 2127 and 2115 have both shown strong performance. Deltapine 2115 was the top performer in 2021 on-farm trials, but as shown in the 2022 program, it probably should be planted on heavier soil types and particularly if irrigation is an option where it can be most competitive. Both Deltapine 2127 and 2115, as well as Phytogen 400 W3FE, should be positioned on high-yield ground, and preferably irrigated, based on multi-year trial results. Deltapine 2038 has been versatile in the past and is believed to be a good option for sandy ground, dryland environments.

Of course, we all know that in reality, many Pitt County cotton fields are characterized by deep sands that are prone to severe moisture stress. A fit for these fields might include the most versatile varieties previously mentioned above as well as Phytogen 443 which has performed well in low-yield environments.

As always, visit the NC State Cotton portal and click on the “The Cotton Variety Performance Calculator” in order to make the best-informed decision when it comes to choosing your 2023 cotton varieties.