California cotton acreage may have slipped to all-time lows in warp speed over the past few years, however, variety choices have never been better for surviving cotton growers.

In fact, growers can find themselves in a quandary there are so many choices.

“With all of these new varieties we have now, the past UCCE guidelines for managing them may be a moving target,” says Bob Hutmacher, UC Davis state cotton specialist. “It makes everything more complicated when we’re trying to evaluate these varieties, but the challenge of management and how it impacts our trials is important to consider.”

While the UCCE and San Joaquin Valley Cotton Board (SJVCB) variety trials have long been a benchmark for growers to consider when choosing varieties, they shouldn’t be gospel, according to Hutmacher and others at a recently sponsored Bayer CropScience cotton seminar.

Limited budgets, limited testing sites and limited resources can’t cover every imaginable growing scenario from Bakersfield to Los Banos. However, the trials are still a benchmark and a good place to start. Seed breeders are continuing to raise the bar and the standards are often left in the dust.

Compared to Maxxa, the current standard for screening Acalas, almost every variety in the UCCE variety trials since 2002 exceeded yield standards across all testing locations.

“There have been a large stable of entries in the past few years that have proven to be good yield performers,” Hutmacher says.

Four Acala varieties are currently under consideration for release by the board at its upcoming March meeting. Those include CPCSD’s C-504 (Acala Revolution LL) and Daytona RF along with Phytogen’s 715RF and Delta Pine’s 03T590.Specific yield data is available on the UCCE Web site at www.cottoninfo.ucdavis.edu

Yield gains

Improvements in yield also have been documented in the SJVCB Pima trials. Hazera 195, in particular, has blown the competition away in terms of yield. However, the Pima hybrid has lagged in the quality department. Pima OA 357 is up for 2007 Board approval and has performed well in trials, neck and neck with the true Pimas in terms of yield and quality. CPCSD’s Cobalt was the top-yielding Pima across locations in the 2005 UCCE Pima Trials.

CPCSD, which was recently acquired by Bayer CropScience, touted several of its other “top tier” varieties at the cotton seminar while encouraging diversity. “Smart cotton growers do not put all of their eggs in one basket,” says John Palmer, Western Seed Manager for Bayer CropScience. “They plant some early season varieties, some medium maturity varieties, and some full season varieties.”

Acala Daytona RF and Acala Revolution LL are two excellent candidates for roller ginning, added Palmer. “Revolution has a very impressive fiber length of 1.21,” he says.

Acala Revolution LL marks the first Liberty Link cotton variety available for sale in California. Similar in concept to Roundup Ready varieties, Liberty Link varieties can tolerate over-the-top herbicide applications. In the case of Liberty Link, it is glufosinate (Ignite) which can be sprayed over-the-top. The option will give San Joaquin Valley growers a much needed alternative to the widely used Roundup Ready system which has produced concerns over the past few years about the onset of Roundup resistance in certain weeds.

Acala Revolution LL is available for sale this season, albeit in limited quantities. Marketing a variety before it is board approved has become a standard practice in the industry. “We have to launch these varieties commercially before they’re approved because they’re almost obsolete by the time we get board approval,” Palmer says.

Quality as future

For California, quality spells the future of the industry, according to Brent Crossland, Bayer’s new district manager. As former global marketing manager for FiberMax varieties, Crossland is well versed in the nuances of what mills are demanding.

“The first thing we need to do is focus on who’s the customer,” he says. “I think sometimes we tend to lose sight of that when we’re out there in the field growing the crop and dealing with the day-to-day issues of managing pests and other problems and trying to get it to harvest. The world is demanding quality. Fortunately, California stacks up there with the best the U.S. has to offer.”

Bayer’s recent acquisition of CPCSD and the company’s technological capabilities will no doubt portend change to the future of California cotton fiber even if the bar is already high. “From our BioScience division, we have things coming to the cotton market that you can hardly even envision,” Crossland says. “There are engineered fibers in the works that will go above and beyond our traditional approach to the market. It’s a very exciting time.”