Positioning Cotton Varieties to Improve Profitability

— Written By Mitch Smith
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The Pitt County cotton planting window has arrived and will go through May 25. At this time, it is difficult to know how much cotton will be planted in 2024. Last year, Pitt County farmers planted 12,375 acres of cotton which was a 43% reduction from 2022. It is likely that we will plant about the same number of acres as last year due to the value that cotton has a rotational crop for Pitt County. Farmers have expressed concern over low prices and the ability to have a positive bottom line when this crop is harvested.

Having said that, matching cotton varieties to fields of differing agronomic characteristics is key to growing the best crop possible.

In February, Dr. Guy Collins, NC State Crop Science Specialist shared the results of his large plot on-farm testing program as well as OVT results and he highlighted the importance of choosing the best right cotton varieties. Making the wrong choice can cost a farmer an estimated $133 per acre. Therefore, positioning varieties in environments where they are likely to be competitive remains a good strategy for reducing input costs and possibly increasing profits in cotton production.


Based on Dr. Guy Collin’s large plot cotton research, the top four performing varieties across the state in 2023 were Stoneville 5091 (#1), Deltapine 2333 (#2) NexGen 3195 (#3) and Stoneville 4595 (#4). NexGen 3195 and Phytogen 415 were both competitive in high yielding environments where drought stress was minimized. Stoneville 5091 was in the top tier of varieties 82% of the time and Deltapine 2333 was the top tier 75% of the time across all trials.

According to the results of the N.C. Official Variety Test, the top three performers were Stoneville 5091, Stoneville 4595, and Armor 9371. During our 2024 Pitt County Cotton Production Meeting, county farmers ranked Stoneville 5091 and Deltapine 2038 as their top performing varieties in 2023. Phytogen 400 was also listed among the leaders for Pitt County growers.

For sandy soils and dryland environments, varieties that should be considered are Armor 9371, Stoneville 4594, Stoneville 5091, Deltapine 2333, Deltapine 2038, and Phytogen 443. Some of these varieties are more versatile than others and can be expected to perform competitively well even in higher yielding environments while others may not.


There are two strategies that can be used to reduce the risk of intermittent drought stress and/or the risk of adverse weather during the early Fall. These are spreading the planting date of the crop and choosing some varieties which are classified as “storm proof.”

Spreading the planting date of a cotton crop can be challenging since a Pitt County farmer has several crops to be planted. In order to minimize the need for replanting, growers should pay close attention to weather and planting conditions (see the Planting Conditions Calculator) and plant when conditions are suitable for rapid emergence and vigorous early season growth.

Planting cotton when conditions are favorable, but also, planting a little all along throughout the planting window can help mitigate risks that may occur later in the season. For example, if Tropical weather occurs during early September, having a portion of your crop planted later can provide some protection during a hurricane if a larger proportion of bolls remain closed when the storm arrives. Later planted cotton is also at risk if an early frost occurs, which is why we want to also have some earlier planted cotton. Spreading planting dates can also help mitigate risks associated with intermittent drought spells during July and August.

Planting multiple varieties is another way to mitigate risks. Variety decisions should be made based on yield, yield stability, and fiber quality, first and foremost. But other characteristics may also come into play. Later maturing varieties often recover from intermittent drought stress a little better than earlier varieties, whereas earlier varieties may be more competitive under irrigation in some cases, or when planting really late. In the cases of Tropical weather during the Fall, planting varieties with higher storm tolerance may also be a good strategy if such weather occurs. Choose varieties that are otherwise competitive, but then pay closer attention to storm tolerance. Varieties such as Phytogen 400 and Stoneville 4990 have performed well in some environments in past years trials, and also have a relatively high storm tolerance. Conversely, if hardlock conditions prevail during late August and September (prolonged cloudy, foggy, damp conditions) when bolls are trying to open, varieties that are a little looser in the burr may be best suited, although they are lower in terms of storm tolerance.

Disclaimer: The use of brand names in this publication does not imply endorsement by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service of the products or services named nor discrimination against similar products or services not mentioned.

The Pitt County Center wishes to thank Dr. Guy Collins, NC State Crop Science Extension Cotton Specialist for his contribution to this article.