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Thaxton restarts Delta cotton program

After helping to nurture new varieties for 2 million cotton acres in Texas for 30 years, cotton breeder Peggy Thaxton liked the idea of working in a program that covered one-third that size.

The difference in acres for her translates into less time traveling and more time spent in test fields researching and developing.

“While I was in Texas there was a lot of mileage traveling through south and central Texas, plots could be eight hours apart,” Thaxton said. “But the Delta is more confined, meaning less travel and more time in the field.”

Even more enticing, the new cotton breeder at Mississippi State University’s Delta Research and Extension Center liked the chance of being in charge of starting a program from scratch.

Thaxton, recently retired from Texas A&M, officially started at the Stoneville, Miss., station on July 1. For almost four years, the Delta program has been basically on hold while past director John Creech has been away on active military duty.

Thaxton said administrators at Stoneville approached her about restarting its program in March. She and her husband Joe, recently retired after 32 years as a breeder with the USDA, visited the station on three occasions before changing addresses.

“I wanted to come here because of the challenge of restarting the program, and I also wanted to lead my very own program. Plus, the Delta has a rich history of breeding cotton,” she said.

While at Texas A&M, Thaxton was part of a leadership team led by Wayne Smith that supervised two different breeding programs which, over time, released 54 germplasms and seven varieties, including the successful line known as TAMCOT.

Thaxton’s work also concentrated on developing varieties with improved fiber and lint quality as well as varieties with strong resistance to seed diseases, bacterial problems and cold temperatures.

It typically requires a minimum of 10 years before the science of breeding new cotton varieties produces tangible results, and Thaxton said the time frame won’t be any different at Stoneville.

“My immediate goal is to get a simple breeding program going again,” she said. “Right now that effort has been limited because I got started in mid-season.

“But long term I want to release germplasms and varieties into the community and also look at developing transgenic germplasms.”

Thaxton’s work is getting immediate help from Ted Wallace, a breeder at Stoneville, and Bill Meredith, also a breeder at the USDA station in Stoneville, as well as regional breeders from the public sector.

Thaxton, whose initial agricultural pursuit was to breed roses, said for the upcoming months ahead she can be more likely reached in the field than in her office.

“This is what I love to do, to get out in the cotton. Staying inside drives me crazy.”


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