Research Is Critical Investment in the Future of High Plains Cotton
Research plays a critical part in the ongoing development of any industry and cotton is no exception.
Significant regional differences between cotton production areas in the United States make it virtually impossible for the U.S. cotton industry to implement a ‘one-size-fits-all’ research program that can address the differing needs of cotton producers throughout the U.S.
An important part of the work that Plains Cotton Growers does on behalf of the High Plains cotton producer is interacting with a broad array of cotton researchers to address critical research needs at both regional and Beltwide scales.
Nationally PCG works closely with Cotton Incorporated to help direct important Beltwide research programs in the areas of economics, entomology, engineering and physiology to address common production and management issues. PCG works also with CI to directly identify and fund critical regional cotton research through the CI State Support Program, which returns a portion of the funds collected through the Cotton Research and Promotion Program back to cotton producing states to support locally identified research projects important to growers.
Based on average cotton production levels, the Texas State Support Program funds up to $1,000,000 of cotton specific research within the state of Texas at leading institutions such as the Texas Tech University College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and Texas A&M University College of Agricultural Sciences and Life Sciences (including Texas AgriLife Research and Texas AgriLife Extension) and the USDA Agricultural Research Service.
One of A Kind – PCIP Is Making A Difference
Closer to home PCG also oversees operation of the Plains Cotton Improvement Program, a one of a kind producer-funded research program that is focused solely on addressing the needs of the High Plains cotton industry and producers. Through the PCIP, High Plains cotton producers support cotton breeding research, variety trials, disease management, entomology and cotton textile performance testing.
Almost 40 years ago, the High Plains of Texas was on the outside looking in when it came to competing for a place at the top of the cotton marketplace. At that time cotton produced in this area was too short, too weak, and too trashy and deemed unsuitable any high-end textile application.
Thanks to forward-thinking industry leaders and a willingness to change the reputation of High Plains cotton the narrative on High Plains cotton has been rewritten and the cotton market landscape is significantly different. Today, cotton produced on the High Plains of Texas is competing head-to-head with cotton produced in other parts of the U.S. and the world thanks to a uniquely West Texas partnership known as the Plains Cotton Improvement Program.
The PCIP was conceived by High Plains cotton industry leaders tired of seeing the area pigeon-holed as the home of junk cotton. Cotton producers and leaders of the region’s warehouse industry joined forces in the early 1980’s to create the PCIP whose initial mission was two-fold – improve the fiber and yield characteristics of High Plains cotton and change the textile industry’s view of High Plains cotton.
The success of the program is evident in the fact that 36 years after its conception, the West Texas cotton crop is considered a primary source of high grade cotton fiber and textile buyers around the world must actively compete to claim their piece of the area’s annual production, which averages around 4 million bales annually.
The PCIP was initiated in 1982 through the cooperative efforts of industry leaders at Plains Cotton Cooperative Association and Farmers Co-op Compress in Lubbock. The following year warehouse leaders asked Plains Cotton Growers, Inc., the region’s certified producer organization, to assume control of the program and provide the administrative and financial oversight necessary to ensure wise use and investment of PCIP funds.
Since 1983 Plains Cotton Growers and the Plains Cotton Improvement Committee have provided administrative and financial oversight for the program. The PCIC is composed of cotton producers who are appointed by and serve at the discretion of the PCG President. In addition to the producer members of the PCIC, an industry advisory committee is also appointed and serves as an invaluable resource to the program by providing research and technical expertise.
Funding for the program comes through a voluntary 10-cent per bale assessment collected by High Plains cotton warehouses. Thanks to the fiscal oversight of the producers charged with directing the program the assessment rate has never increased.
Another ingredient in the PCIP’s recipe for success is the opportunity to work with outstanding and highly respected cotton research scientists. Two of the finest are Dr. Jane Dever, Associate Professor/Cotton Breeder and Dr. Murilo Maeda, Texas AgriLife Extension Cotton Agronomist.
At the PCIP’s inception cotton breeding was the singular focus of the program. The Lubbock cotton breeding program has released more than 400 improved cotton germplasm breeding lines into a cottonseed industry pipeline that has changed tremendously. Over the past 36 years West Texas cotton producers have developed a true sense of ownership in the program and realize big benefits in the field thanks to the use of PCIP developed germplasm in the commercial breeding programs of today.
Creating improved cotton breeding lines with increased yield and superior quality attributes continues to be the PCIP’s centerpiece, but an increased understanding of the agronomic and environmental influences that also affect cotton quality have broadened the PCIP research effort.
The cottonseed industry has changed significantly since the early 1980’s when the West Texas market included almost three-dozen regional and national cottonseed companies that were actively developing varieties. Today, only a handful of cottonseed companies still operate in the West Texas marketplace and most of them are companies with Beltwide and usually international market interests.
Today’s producers have an almost overwhelming array of cotton varieties to choose from. Growers no longer simply look at yield and what is working for their neighbor when choosing varieties. While yield potential is still a primary decision point, growers are also incorporating fiber quality, weed pressure and insect and disease management into the mix.
In an effort to keep the PCIP research pipeline loaded with deliverables that producers need to be successful in today’s production environment the PCIP has expanded its research model to address a broader range of production issues and develop tools for growers to evaluate the relative performance of competing seed technologies on an economically relevant scale.
Starting with the 2000 crop year, the PCIP began supporting large-plot evaluations of new cotton varieties and management systems. Twenty years later Texas AgriLife Extension cotton agronomist Dr. Murilo Maeda is working with Texas AgriLife Extension agronomist Dr. Jourdan Bell in the Texas Panhandle to coordinate multiple Regional Agronomic Cotton Evaluation (RACE) trials at locations across the Texas High Plains.
The goal of the RACE trials is to determine the relative performance of the top commercially available cotton varieties in replicated, on-farm tests that are producer-managed. Locations throughout the High Plains region will allow for multiple locations to be compared using a common set of varieties identified by cottonseed providers to best fit the environmental and agronomic characteristics of the location. In general the High Plains area is divided into northern and southern regions with varieties selected based upon the environmental and production circumstances at each location. To further enhance the study both irrigated and dryland locations are planted to provide data on how varieties perform under different production systems.
RACE trial results provide standard yield comparisons for each variety as well as comparisons of fiber quality, loan value and overall economic performance. The project is also used to source cotton used in additional research studies conducted at the Texas Tech Fiber and Biopolymer Research Institute and the USDA Ginning Laboratory at Lubbock.
Other notable spin-offs adding to the PCIP benefit package include collaboration with Texas AgriLife Research plant pathologist Dr. Terry Wheeler and Dr. Brendan Kelly at the Texas Tech FBRI.
Dr. Wheeler’s conducts cotton screening programs to help identify varieties with resistance to common High Plains plant diseases such as Bacterial Blight and Verticillium Wilt as well as nematode resistance. The goal is to screen both commercially available cotton varieties as well as newly developed PCIP breeding lines to improve resistance to soil-borne insect and disease vectors.
The second spin-off project extends the analysis begun in the systems trials to the textile mill floor. The project is overseen by Dr. Brendan Kelly from the Texas Tech University Fiber and Biopolymer Research Institute (FBRI), and involves taking samples from the various cotton varieties selected by the cooperating producers and planted in the RACE trial study locations. While it is too early to know exactly what these spinning tests will show over time, early analysis indicates that High Plains cotton is able to perform quite well in even the most demanding textile operations. These results will ultimately help identify additional areas of emphasis for PCIP breeding efforts.
The current work with at the FBRI isn’t the first time that the PCIP has engaged the services of this premier textile research facility. In the early 1990’s the PCIP supported research on “Barky” cotton. That project illustrated what High Plains cotton producers had already suspected – producers were “taking a beating” in the market based on bark content. The study was instrumental in the reduction of bark discounts in the CCC Loan schedules starting in the early 1990’s.
Thanks to their investment in the PCIP, High Plains cotton growers are working together to create benefits and opportunities for the cotton they produce. In addition the PCIP continues to illustrate the value and quality of the cotton produced in the High Plains of Texas.
If there is one thing that High Plains cotton growers know it’s that taking an active part can yield substantial benefits. The positive returns they get from their PCIP sponsored research is a real and lasting foundation that High Plains producers can build on for years to come.