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Agribusiness: Drought tolerance, nematode resistance are breeding targets

Drought tolerance high on Monsanto priority list for cotton varieties. Nematode resistance a focus.

Monsanto’s cotton breeders are looking for cotton lines that will perform better than traditional varieties under limited water regimes, especially in the often arid conditions of the Southwest.

Breeders also hope to develop cotton varieties with resistance to both the rootknot and the reniform nematode.

“We need them now,” says Darren Jones, Rolling Plains cotton breeding lead for Monsanto.

Jones, in an interview at a recent Deltapine field day near Idalou, Texas, said some breeding work shifted over the past few years to address the significant acreage in the Texas High Plains and Rolling Plains that is considered to count on “limited water.” As much as 85 percent of the High Plains and 90 percent of the Rolling Plains qualify for that condition.

Monsanto opened its Texas Cotton Breeding and Technology Center in 2010. “Deltapine leadership has gotten behind us,” Jones said. “They see the value in this breeding work, and we are excited about what we hope to find. We are exploring all the Deltapine germplasm and looking for those that fit in a light water environment.”

He said the work has made progress. “We have found some varieties that will perform – still, we’re always looking for more tests over a broader scale. In the next two or three years, we hope to have material that fits this market.”

For the time being, Jones and another breeder out of Lubbock are looking at the germplasm currently on hand. “The High Plains breeder and I have made specific crosses, based on a limited amount of data and material to find specific genotypes,” Jones said.

“We have crosses in development that we think will produce promising material, and we’re looking for the exact mechanics that help these varieties perform.”

At some point, Jones expects to take the breeding work and merge it with biotechnology to provide the herbicide and insect packages currently available to producers. “We want to get the best genetics with the best biotechnology,” he said.

The nematode project includes breeders in Texas and the Mid-South. “We’re looking at rootknot and reniform nematode resistance,” Jones said. “Rootknot is the main focus in Texas.” Nematode infestation is not a problem north of Lubbock, Jones said. “The area with sandier soils south of Lubbock is the target area.”

“He said some promising material, with a B2RF background, will be in New Product Evaluator (NPE) varieties in 2013, and therefore may be ready for commercial launch in 2014 or 2015.”

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