RALEIGH, N.C. — Every year in North Carolina brings its share of challenges, and 2023 was no different. Beginning in May, we were blessed with decent heat units and moisture to get our crop planted, and for the most part, good stands were achieved across the state, with very few fields needing replanting. Shortly following planting and stand establishment, most parts of the state experienced abnormally cool conditions which prevented rapid seedling growth. Simultaneously, we experienced monumental thrips pressure statewide, which was exacerbated by cool weather and slow growth, along with acephate resistance in places. Much of the acephate resistance was observed only after spray failures, allowing for further thrips feeding and increased damage before additional sprays using different chemistry could be completed. Ample heat unit accumulation resumed in late June, allowing our significantly delayed crop to finally grow. Rains were sparse but timely for most areas of the NC cotton belt during July, and decent growth resulted. By the end of July, most growers remained concerned about late maturity of this crop (caused by early season weather and thrips) as most cotton began blooming in the latter half of July, and early August in some cases. Unfortunately, August brought significant heat and severe drought stress to some of our predominate cotton producing areas. Yields can nearly be tracked by where rains occurred during that time. By Labor Day, we were no longer concerned about maturity of this crop, as the August heat and drought sped up maturity substantially. By this point in time, our crop had ceased blooming for the most part, leaving us with a predominately bottom crop of various degrees.
We did experience a surprising tropical storm on September 22nd. This made us nervous due to the timing of this storm occurring right as a large proportion of bolls were opening. Thankfully, losses related to this storm were minimal and less than expected in the impacted areas. The week following the hurricane brought cooler and cloudy weather, which also made is nervous for potentially hardlocking our remaining closed bolls. Luckily, decent weather resumed in late September, albeit late September and early October were noticeably cooler than normal.
Due to the severe heat and drought during August, some areas did experience less than ideal yields (500-700 lbs/A). However, there was noticeably less of this than what was expected. Surprisingly, there was more 1000-1100 lb cotton in some areas that were significantly impacted by drought, than we thought there would be. Irrigated fields really illustrated their value this year, as those fields yielded exceptionally well (assuming cotton was irrigated in a timely manner). Statewide, yields were highly variable, and as mentioned earlier, yields closely reflected rainfall patterns during August when water was badly needed.
Thanks to our stellar cooperating growers and county agents, we were able to successfully complete another year of the North Carolina On-Farm Cotton Variety Evaluation Program. Additionally, this program was once again a huge success in 2023, thanks to the substantial support from the NC Cotton Producers Association, N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, NC State University, our Seed Companies, and Cotton Incorporated. The support and contributions of all involved are much appreciated, and will have significant impact on our growers’ bottom line as we look forward to a hopefully another prosperous 2024 season.
As in years past, this on-farm program consisted of the most widely-adapted and best-fit varieties for North Carolina cotton growers as determined by our leading seed companies. It is always advised that variety decisions be based on multi-environment and multi-year replicated data in order to identify varieties with a high degree of stability (strong performance across a wide range of environmental conditions and years). As a standard practice, it is always wise for growers to choose several varieties and position those varieties in environments where they are likely to perform competitively. It is also advised that growers observe data from both the on-farm program and NC State University Official Variety Trials (OVT) which will be available very soon. Both programs serve as platforms for effective evaluation of variety performance but are different in several regards. One of the primary strengths of the on-farm program is the vast number of environments that are effectively captured in a given season. However, OVT can accommodate many more varieties than we can effectively evaluate in an on-farm trial, and many of our seed companies have several competitive varieties (including brand new, recently released varieties) available for North Carolina producers, many of which are evaluated in OVT. Together, the On-Farm and OVT programs collectively offer growers a complete platform for making variety decisions.
Within the 9th year of this program alone, which is difficult to fathom for me, the on-farm program again has clearly demonstrated that variety selection is one of the most important decisions a grower can make that will significantly impact their profitability in a given year. Depending on the degree of variety selection error, the 2023 on-farm trials clearly illustrated that producers could lose an average of $104 to $133 per acre due to improper variety selection, with a potential statewide economic value of $38,480,000 to $49,210,000, assuming acreage is similar next year!! Keep in mind, that these figures are based on performance of the best varieties from each brand, therefore a producer could do much worse than this by potentially choosing a less competitive variety. Variety performance information will be discussed in much greater detail during the upcoming winter meetings (look for meeting dates/locations for your county at your local N.C. Cooperative Extension office or on the NC State University Cotton Portal (meeting dates will be listed soon). Additionally, your local county agent is an excellent resource for variety selection, so please contact them for your local trial results and they will be happy to share those results with you. Additionally, the NC Cotton Variety Performance Calculator, launched in early 2016, is an excellent resource for growers to use to make customized variety comparisons based on geographical region, yield environment, years or multi-years, and trial type. The calculator is now updated with lint yields and fiber quality for the 2023 On-Farm trials, with OVT data soon to follow. Particularly unique to 2023, we are currently adding a function to select trials based on herbicide technology, not that we have trials for Xtend-Flex only varieties in addition to our standard trials.
The slides below offers a very general summary of variety performance across the state. Variety performance data will be dissected in much greater detail during the upcoming winter meetings. This year, as always, growers should focus more on factors such as stability characteristics, versus focusing on the overall variety ranking of single-year data alone. There are several ways to approach and observe 2023 variety performance data, and this will be explained thoroughly during meeting season. During 2023, variety performance varied rather wildly from trial to trial, and there were noticeable differences in variety performance even within regions of the state. Therefore, growers might want to hold off on making any definite variety decisions until these various approaches can be discussed thoroughly during winter meetings. However, the slides below can be used as a very general summary for now.
In these slides, varieties are ranked in descending order according to average yield across all trials in each analysis. Varieties with yields highlighted in green indicate that yields were above average across all locations. The percentage of trials in which a variety was the highest yielder, within the top 2, within the top 3, and most importantly, within the statistically highest yielding group are also shown. As mentioned earlier, individual trial results can be obtained from your local county agent and in the variety calculator. Results for OVT will be available soon. Again, growers are also encouraged however to observe multi-location and multi-year data before making variety decisions. Due to the clear variation in performance between trials and years, it is not wise to base variety decisions on results from a single trial or even a small number of trials.
We want to reiterate our appreciation to all of our leadership organizations (NC Cotton Producers Association, NCDA&CS, NC State, Cotton Inc.) and our Seed Companies for their efforts and support in this program for the benefit of all North Carolina cotton growers, as well the diligence and hard work that our county agents, consultants, and cooperating growers put into this program during 2023. This program was a success again in 2023 due to the efforts of all involved and we look forward to another year of this program in 2024!
–Guy Collins, N.C. State University