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Value of practice not clear: Farmers blend cotton varieties

Extension cotton specialists in west Tennessee and Louisiana aren't quite sure about the practice of planting two different cotton varieties in a field to minimize the potential for a high micronaire discount.

The primary objective of so-called blending is to blend out a particular problem with one variety, noted Louisiana Extension cotton specialist Sandy Stewart. “For example, if one variety typically has short staple and high micronaire, you would want to blend that out with a variety with longer staple and lower mike, without compromising the characteristics you're looking for — usually high yield.”

Blending is somewhat of a stop-gap measure of addressing the high mike problem often associated with a few high-yielding cotton varieties, according to Stewart.

“I think blending holds some promise until we get some new varieties,” Stewart said. “Some of the new ones, like DP 555 BG/RR from Delta and Pine Land and ST 5599 BR from Stoneville, tend to be high-yielders with good fiber quality.”

Blending will be discussed at the upcoming 2003 Beltwide Cotton Conferences, Jan. 6-10, in Nashville.

Stewart says a few producers in Louisiana tried blending on their farms in 2002, with Paymaster PM 1218 BG/RR and DP 451 B/RR being the most popular mix.

“Our highest-yielding varieties the last few years have been PM 1218 BG/RR and Suregrow 215 BG/RR that tend to yield well in a lot of environments,” Stewart said. “But they also tend to be high mike or short staple cotton. The idea of blending is to harvest a crop that is just below the discount and still maintains the yield level that you would have with an entire field of 1218.

“I'm hesitant to say if it's something that's going to work every time,” Stewart said. “In some research situations, it's worked very well.” However, in field situations, many growers who blend varieties were able to nudge mike below the discount range, but have so far been disappointed in yields. “It's like a lot of things. There may end up being a trade off.”

Other challenges include “matching the blended varieties so you can have varieties of similar stature and maturity,” he said. “You don't want to have an extremely late variety matching with an extremely early variety. Then you'd have a real mess on your hands. You'd have one variety with green bolls and one with open bolls. Another problem may be how you report the blending to the gin.”

Tennessee Extension cotton specialist Chism Craig agrees that blending sounds good in theory. “But whether it works or not, that's still up in the air.”

Craig is looking at two blending methods in his research plots. “We're looking at alternate row patterns of different varieties and mixes (two varieties blended in a bag) within the rows to get a little better handle on the practice,” Craig said. “But I don't know exactly what to say about it yet.”

Making the latter process easier are the new bulk containers, according to Craig. “Growers tell their seed supplier to take 25 bags of 1218 and mix them with 25 bags of something else. The most popular varieties to mix are PM 1218 BG/RR and DP 451 B/RR.”

As to the success of blending, “I've heard two different stories,” Craig said. “One farmer says it's helping grades. Another may say it doesn't matter, he's still getting high mike.”

Craig will present his blending data at the 2003 Beltwide Cotton Conferences. “I was impressed with the blended-plot yields,” he said. “We'll have to wait until we gin it and get the data crunched to find out about the quality factors.”

Craig added that there is still some doubt as to the source of high mike in cotton. “Sometimes the variety isn't the problem at all,” he said. “I talked to one grower this year who had 600 acres of 1218 that averaged a 4.9 mike and 51 cents in the loan. And I've heard people complaining that DP 451 has quality problems. It usually has excellent fiber quality.”

Blending is not a new practice, noted Craig. “I talked to one farmer who has been doing it for 10 to 15 years. The blend was giving him a nickel strength premium.”

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