Phytogen Seed Co. is the “We Try Harder Avis” of the highly competitive San Joaquin Valley cottonseed business that has quietly put the “Hertz” on its competitors.

While the two oldest seed companies in the valley have conducted highly visible battles for cotton acreage, Johnny-come-lately Phytogen has quietly won the war.

Phytogen's Phy 72 Acala accounts for 50 percent of the Acala acreage in the valley this year, according to the company, and its Pima, Phy 76, accounts for almost 70 percent of the Pima acreage this year. Both have become yield targets for the other seed companies.

And on the horizon is a much-anticipated Roundup Ready Pima as well as the valley's first look at a broader spectrum Bt cotton that controls a wider array of lepidopteran pests than currently available Bt technology from Monsanto.

It is called WideStrike, and it's from Dow AgroSciences, Phytogen's parent company.

The company's 810R Roundup Ready experimental Pima is being produced on 42 acres this year in the valley and there should be seed for very limited grower trials next year, according to Phytogen San Joaquin Valley breeder Joel Mahill. The majority of the seed from this year's crop will be used for seed increase, he added at one of the field days Phytogen hosted this year to showcase its variety development program.

Mahill said there were only 84 Roundup Ready Pima plants grown last season in the valley. There were another 75 plants in the greenhouse and those together were used to plant a winter nursery in Costa Rica. Mahill selected out plants with inferior quality from there and a little more than 500 pounds of seed were used to plant this year's 42 acres.

In 1998 J.G. Boswell's variety development division, Phytogen, and Mycogen Corp., an affiliate of Dow AgroSciences, merged into what is today Phytogen Seed Co., a division of Dow AgroSciences. Boswell still has an interest in Phytogen.

Worldwide focus

Before the merger, Boswell's Phytogen focused primarily on the San Joaquin Valley. After the merger, Phytogen became a worldwide cotton variety company. It has introduced several varieties across the U.S. Cotton Belt. This year the company hopes to introduce Phy 440W and Phy 540W, pending federal registration of new Bt technology. Phytogen also will be introducing two non-Acala Roundup Ready uplands.

WideStrike insect protection is a combination of CryiF and Cry1Ac Bacillus thuringiensis proteins to control cotton bollworm, tobacco budworm, pink bollworm, beet armyworm, fall armyworm, Southern armyworm and cabbage loopers.

Phy 440W and Phy 540W will be available for SJV growers. They will be identified as “California Uplands,” meaning they are non-approved Acalas under the valley's one-quality law. However, they can be planted anywhere in the valley and lint marketed as non-Acalas.

There have been growing armyworm and looper problems in the valley and some growers in those areas may try these to see if they can reduce pest control costs.

Phytogen is considering inserting WideStrike into Acalas, stacked with Roundup Ready genes.

Avoid ‘sudden decline’

Acalas and Pima are expected to continue to dominate valley acreage, and Mahill has a new Roundup Ready Acala, experimental Phy 710R that is in the second year of the cotton board's three years testing criteria. Mahill says the transgenic Acala is similar to Phy 72 and Phy 78 in height, vigor and yield potential. It is a mid-maturity Acala, he said. Small quantities will be available in 2004 for on-farm grower testing.

Mahill also is developing shorter-season Pimas he says do not exhibit the so-called “sudden decline” malady affecting long staple cottons in the valley.

One of the perceived plums in the highly competitive seed business in the valley where are there more seed companies per acre than anywhere in the Cotton Belt is have a variety designed as the San Joaquin Valley Cotton Board standard.

Currently, Maxxa, which has rapidly fallen in acreage and S-7 Pima are the standards. While some seed companies plan to nominate new standards, Mahill said Phytogen has chosen not to get into that race.

“We will let our varieties speak for themselves by what growers chose to grow in their fields,” he said.

e-mail: hcline@primediabusiness.com