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Yield vs. quality: Why a trade-off?

“We have to remember, though, that the seed business is very, very competitive,” said Kenneth Hood, a Perthshire, Miss., cotton farmer speaking at Delta Council’s Research Advisory Committee meeting in Stoneville. “They have to provide the seed selections their customers will buy.”

Hood, who chairs the committee, acknowledges there have been rumors that micronaire discounts may soon begin kicking in at 4.7 or 4.8 instead of 5.0.

If that were to happen, he says it would be disastrous to Mid-South cotton growers. “If discounts are applied to cotton with micronaire of 4.7, it would affect 60 percent of Mississippi’s cotton crop and 85 percent of the Louisiana crop. What’s more, discounts for low strength cotton are increasing.”

“Mills, especially foreign ones, are demanding higher quality cotton from producers. What that’s saying is if you have high micronaire, low strength cotton with short staple, you’re going to have a tough time finding a market for that cotton, if you are able to find a market at all,” he says.

“Without the exports we would be in serious trouble, because we’ve got a lot of cotton that’s got to go across the big waters to be sold. For U.S. cotton growers, choosing a cotton variety boils down to yield potential, followed closely by quality.”

In the same respect, yield losses or decreases cost Mid-South growers money, and discounts for high micronaire cotton are much larger than the premiums offered for low micronaire cotton, which also tends to yield less fiber.

Bill Meredith, research leader and cotton geneticist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Stoneville, says the new, transgenic varieties have eased production management for growers.

According to Meredith, what happens when you breed for fiber quality is that for every one unit of length gained, a grower loses 2.54 pounds of yield. And, for every unit of strength gained, 14.6 pounds of yield. On the other hand, for every tenth of a unit of micronaire increased through breeding, you gain 20 pounds of lint yield.

For example, a micronaire increase from 4.5 to 5.0 would result in about 100 pounds per acre increase. “You can see why growers like high-micronaire cotton,” he says.

Meredith says, “Part of our problem is that to get fiber quality, we’ve got to give up yield. There are exceptions in those breeding programs where a high priority is placed on both yield and quality.”

To do that, he says, requires broadening the genetic base used in cotton breeding programs, and staying with the program for an extended period of time.

Vance Watson, vice president of Mississippi’s Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Stations, says, “Yes, we can produce varieties with higher quality traits with the technology and breeding techniques currently available, but it costs yield. Where are the incentives to growers to plant varieties with the fiber quality traits desired by mills?”

To help resolve the quality-quantity issue, Delta Council is urging Mississippi State University and USDA to accelerate their breeding programs with the objective of partnering with private industry to introduce public varieties that possess the characteristics needed to make cotton producers profitable.

An Aug. 4 resolution adopted by the Delta Council’s Research Advisory Committee, says, “Delta Council encourages commercial companies and public sector scientists to cooperate in jointly validating major growth and yield characteristics during the experimental phase, so that higher levels of confidence will be maintained in the consistency of transgenic plants under the wide range of field and environmental conditions which exist in the Delta crop production system.”


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