Compared with 20 years ago, cotton farmers have more variety, trait and seed treatment options. But the fundamentals behind these choices haven’t really changed, according to industry experts.

“Yield will always be at the top of the list,” says Dave Albers, cotton product development manager with Monsanto. “A close second behind that is quality.”

An industrywide push for higher quality continues to pay off, Albers points out. For example, a farmer might have considered a “good” fiber staple length to be 35 or 36 a decade ago. Now, some varieties can reach as high as 39 or 40. Breeders have been able to push varieties with fiber that’s stronger and has more desirable micronaire values, too.

“We’re moving everything in the right direction,” Albers says.

Plant the right variety mix to spread risk. “We have more varieties to fit growers’ specific farming needs than ever before,” says Hank King, U.S. leader for PhytoGen in a recent press release. “Varieties have been bred to perform in their specific geography and agronomic conditions.”

Beyond the typical yield and quality discussion, farmers have many nuanced decisions that inform variety selection, according to Brad Littlefield, product manager with Americot. Farmers should spend some time reviewing Extension official variety trials and cottonseed company trials. Look at yield potential in the target maturity ranges, and balance that with various “yield limiters” such as disease pressures, insects, resistant weeds or nematode issues, he adds.

Littlefield also sees more farmers spread risk by planting multiple varieties with different maturities. Done right, farmers can stack the season in their favor for a smoother harvest.

Select trait packages that target your fields’ pests. Companies have herbicide-tolerant varieties for glyphosate, glufosinate and dicamba, or for glyphosate, glufosinate and 2,4-D. The mix of herbicide tolerances depends on the brand.

“We’ve seen a lot of farmers adopt the new platforms to avoid self-inflicted wounds,” he says.

If a farmer chooses all varieties that contain the dicamba-tolerant gene, for example, he or she gains peace of mind about spraying the wrong field with the wrong chemistry. 

“At the same time, glyphosate resistance has changed our mindset and taught us that stacking residual herbicides has a lot of value,” Littlefield adds. “These technologies won’t last forever, but we want to preserve them for as long as we can.”

Three-gene bollworm protection is another welcome trait advancement, says Scott Asher, regional agronomy manager with Bayer. He says it represents a “just-in-time” tool cotton farmers will likely embrace as soon as it’s available, he says.

“The last couple of years, we’ve seen high levels of bollworm feeding on corn and moving into cotton,” he notes. “Having the highest level of control possible is very important. It’s coming just in time to help the longevity of those traits.”

Consider seed treatments to get your crop off to the best start. Even the best varieties equipped with the best traits will need a little bit of extra help getting off to the best possible start. Asher chalks it up to the nature of growing cotton.

“There are a lot of early season challenges due to weather, and a lot of our most significant pests hit the plant early on,” he says. “Growers and consultants really need to be on top of their game early in the season.”

Is a basic or premium seed treatment package in order? Albers suggests looking at the cost versus the benefits. He is encouraged that a healthy competition among seed treatment manufacturers has been beneficial for all.

“The industry has much better options than we did 20 years ago,” he says. “They’re not perfect, but they’re much better than they used to be.”

Cotton farmers have more choices than ever—so be a diligent student and do some homework about what’s new each year, Albers says.