Randy Norton’s photo should be printed on the cover of the Arizona Official State Highway Map to signify the thousands of miles driven annually across the state’s cotton country inspecting the commercial fiber crop and checking university variety performance trials.

For years, Norton has conducted University of Arizona (UA) cotton trials to independently test cotton varieties available to Arizona cotton farmers. The information is shared with growers to make informed variety buying decisions.

Norton is the UA regional cotton specialist and director of the UA’s Safford Agricultural Center in Graham County in southeastern Arizona. Norton conducts variety trials with the assistance of Cooperative Extension agents in cotton-producing counties.

Norton recently shared his 2010 variety trial findings for Upland short staple and Pima extra long staple cottons for the central Arizona area and for Arizona statewide. Norton discussed the data during the Central Arizona Farmer Field Day in Maricopa, Ariz., held at the Maricopa Agricultural Center in late September.

UA trials are conducted at commercial cotton farms and UA agricultural centers.

In Norton’s trials, a variety of cotton issues were evaluated. The top two were yield and fiber quality. Others issues included staple length, micronaire, value, technology (insect protection and herbicide tolerance), crop maturity, seedling vigor, and heat tolerance.

“Yield is the No. 1 issue and how varieties will yield on a farm and a general local area,” Norton told the crowd. “Yield stability is another factor impacted by soil texture, irrigation water access, and potential stressors. A wide range of variation can be found within a single field.”

The UA trials are non-biased, Norton says. The trials included eight to 12 varieties planted the length of the irrigation run with a minimum of three replications each.

Norton shared the results of 2010 Upland trials at four central Arizona locations - commercial farms in Buckeye, Goodyear, Stanfield, and Marana.

In the Buckeye trial (Maricopa County), cottonseed was planted in rillito sandy loam soil April 14 with the final irrigation Aug. 25 and harvest Dec. 2. Variety yields ranged from 1,471 lint pounds per acre to 2,113 pounds/acre.

These varieties performed better than average listed in the order of performance - DP1032B2RF - 2,113 pounds per acre, DP1044B2RF – 1,983 pounds per acre; DP0949B2RF – 1,940 pounds per acre; PHY367WRF – 1,847 pounds per acre; and ST4498B2F – 1,800 pounds.

In the Goodyear trial (Maricopa County) in Gilman loam soil, cottonseed was planted as a double crop after a small grains crop. The seed was planted May 30 with a Sept. 30 final irrigation and a Nov. 22 harvest. Lint yields ranged from about 1,600 pounds per acre to 2,000 pounds per acre.

All fiber quality was in the premium range. The top lint-fiber producing varieties included DP1044B2RF, DP1032B2RF, and PHY367WRF.

In the Stanfield trial (Pinal County), seed was planted April 15 in Dateland fine sandy loam soil with the final irrigation Oct. 28 and harvest on Dec. 15. Yields ranged from 1,400 pounds per acre to just under 2,000 pounds per acre. PHY565WRF performed better than average in lint yield and fiber quality.

Prime production state

In the Marana trial (Pima County) in Vinton-Anthony sandy loam soil, seed was planted May 6 with the last irrigation Aug. 17 and a Nov. 1 harvest date. Yields ranged in the 1,200 pounds per acre to 1,500 pounds per acre range. Norton says the fiber quality was very high with premiums in the 5 cents per pound range. The top performers included DP1044B2RF, FM9170B2F, and ST4288B2F.

Norton collected Upland trial results for multiple years (2007 to 2010) at various locations statewide: 2007 in Parker and Mohave Valley; 2008 in Maricopa, Coolidge, and Stanfield; 2009 in Scottsdale and Sacaton; and the 2010 trials locations referred to earlier.

When the numbers were pooled together, the top four lint producers were DP1044B2RF, PHY370WR, DP1032B2RF, and DP0949B2RF. The top four fiber varieties included DP164B2RF, DP1028B2RF; DP1034B2RF, and DP0949B2RF.

Statewide, Norton says the best performing UA-tested Upland varieties include (in no particular order): Bayer CropScience – ST5458B2RF, ST4498B2RF, and FM9170B2RF; Phytogen - PHY565WRF, PHY375WRF, PHY367WRF, and PHY499WRF; and Monsanto - DP1044B2RF, DP1032B2RF, DP0935BRF, DP0949B2RF, DP161B2RF, and DP164B2RF.

On the Pima front, good performing varieties statewide include: PHY805RF, PHY802RF, PHY800, PHY830, DP360Pima, DP357Pima, and DP340Pima.

“I would be comfortable planting any of these varieties on my farm,” Norton said. “They performed well across a wide variety of locations.”

Norton says differences exist between varieties. Not every variety performs the same under different management regimes.

“As long as these varieties are managed properly and managed according to the variety, they will perform well,” Norton said.

Norton’s trials and analyses come at a perfect time as Arizona’s cotton acreage exploded this year tied to record U.S. cotton prices. 2011 Arizona acreage includes about 260,000 acres of Upland cotton and about 10,000 acres of Pima cotton, reports the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Upland acreage last year totaled about 198,000 acres with Pima at about 2,500 acres.

Arizona is a prime production state in the Cotton Belt. Arizona cotton growers last year produced the nation’s highest lint yields; just over 1,500 pounds/acre. Norton predicts yields this year will be slightly lower due to excessive heat stress in August.

According to the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), the top 10 cotton varieties planted in Arizona (in order) in 2011 include: DP164B2RF, DP1044BR2F, ST 4498B2RF, DP0912B2RF, PHY375WRF, FM1740B2RF, DP0935B2RF, DP1048B2RF, DP161B2RF, and ST5288B2RF.

Monsanto has 67 percent of Arizona’s Upland market this year; followed by Bayer CropScience with 26 percent (16 percent Stoneville and 10 percent FiberMax); and Dow Phytogen with 7 percent. Last year, Dow’s numbers were less than 1 percent.

“Dow has made a big jump,” Norton said. “They have some good products that have done well in our testing.”

On the Pima side, AMS reports Dow had the lion’s share with 92 percent of this year’s market. Dow’s most popular varieties in Arizona are PHY805RF, PHY802RF, PHY800, and PHY830. ‘Miscellaneous’ accounted for 7 percent. Monsanto has a 1 percent market share.

The UA Upland cotton variety testing program is funded by participating seed companies. An entry fee is assessed for each variety a company enters into a trial. The funds are used to manage the trial and collect the pertinent data over the course of the season.

Several advanced strain trials, sponsored by Cotton Incorporated and the Arizona Cotton Growers Association, are underway at several locations and elevations including Yuma (100 feet above sea level), Maricopa (1,100 feet), and Safford (2,900 feet).

cblake@farmpress.com