The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services launched a pilot program, and leaders in the cotton industry hope it will help farmers better evaluate both the warm germination and the cold germination of the cotton seed they plant in 2020.
Details of the new program were highlighted during a session at the annual meeting of Southern Cotton Growers and Southeastern Cotton Ginners Association in Savannah Jan. 16. At the meeting, NCDACS Assistant Commissioner Sandy Stewart and North Carolina State University Extension Cotton Agronomist Guy Collins said the program is voluntary, but they expect good cooperation from both cotton farmers and seed companies.
“If we can avoid regulations, we are all better off. This is a voluntary program. At this point in time we have pretty good buy in from the seed companies,” Stewart said in the Friday afternoon meeting that was attended by cotton farmers, seed company representatives, Extension personnel and officials from state departments of agriculture across the Southeast.
The need for the program was triggered when some cotton growers experienced germination problems with the cotton seed they planted. Collins noted that issues with average cool germination in cotton seed weren’t a problem in North Carolina until 2017 when the state began to see an alarming drop in cool germination that continued in 2018 and 2019.
However, there have been instances of poor warm and cool germination dating back to 2012.
Collins stressed the seed quality issues are not attributed to just one variety or one seed company. It is an issue across varieties and seed companies. He is optimistic the pilot program will help cotton farmers better know the germination of the seed they plant.
“Dr. (Keith) Edmisten (North Carolina State University Extension cotton specialist) and myself are going to encourage all our growers to take a very proactive role in this plan. We want every grower to play an active role throughout the process,” Collins said.
“We’re going to encourage growers to order their seeds early and try to commit to those purchases the best they can. They should request an early arrival (by April) of the seed if you want test results before planting. Cross check your lot numbers with the NCDA database to see if it’s been tested,” Collins said.
The link to the NCDA database will be provided in North Carolina State’s cotton planting conditions newsletter. Collins urged farmers to check the database frequently and to contact Extension, NCDA and seed companies quickly if problems occur soon after planting.
Collins emphasized that all NCDA inspectors must pull official samples from unopened bags or containers. Growers should not pull the samples themselves. Growers should save a Ziploc bag of seed regardless.
Stewart said the goal of the pilot program is to collect samples from as many lots as possible. A number of growers who attended the meeting said a cooperative approach between NCDA, growers and the seed companies is vital for the success of the program.
Stanly County, N.C., cotton farmer Andrew Burleson said third party testing can work in both directions, with seed companies able to look at the data and say it was not the fault of germination but something else that caused the cottonseed not to emerge.
Many in the industry are attributing the cold germination issues to wet weather at harvest in Arizona where much of the cottonseed farmers plant is produced. At the Savannah meeting, Keylon Gholston, Deltapine cotton product manager, explained that there can be years when there will be a lot of variance in quality of cotton seed.
“From the time we take the seed in, all we can do is try to preserve what God gave us that we take out of the field,” he said.
Gholston explained that warm germination percentage of cotton seed is published on the bag while cold germination percentage is not published on the bag.
Gholston added there can be a lot of variability in cool germination of cotton seed and variation of temperature over a certain period of time can impact cool germination. A deviation in temperature can affect cool germination and if temperatures remain too cold for two hours too long, cool germination can be impacted.
“Cool test is really important. If a grower is going to plant a variety early and he is looking at some less than favorable conditions, then he needs to know what the cool test is. For years at Deltapine, if you want to know the germ of the lot of cottonseed that you get as a grower, all you have to do is go to your retailer, request the germ and that certificate of analysis will be sent to you,” Gholston said.
Stewart said a goal of the pilot program is to increase the number of NCDACS sample s which can be collected and evaluated and then provide that information to growers. Seed companies will notify NCDACS prior to the arrival of cotton seed in North Carolina with the variety, lot number, origin, location of the distribution and contact information.
“NCDA&CS will sample as many lots as possible prior to germination testing which will take about 12 days for completion of the test once it arrives in the lab. Seed may be distributed and planted once it is sampled,” Stewart said.
The results of all samples will be sampled and posted on the web.