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"White Gold" Grows In Mississippi Hills
By Rebekah Ray
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Cotton may be king in the Mississippi Delta, but research at Mississippi State University is helping the white gold grow in hilly sections of the state as well.
Cotton breeding and development is conducted by Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Experiment Station breeders Dr. Ted Wallace and Dr. Roy Creech in Starkville, and Dr. John Creech at the MSU's Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville.
"Historically, cotton in Mississippi has been grown on about 1 million acres, with almost a third from outside the 18 Delta counties. Farms in this hill section are smaller but represent a greater number of producers when compared to the Delta," Wallace said.
The hill section represents a wider range of growing environments, such as soil variations and irrigation practices.
Centuries of Mississippi River floodings made Delta soils extremely rich and fertile while hill country land is sandier, a result of floodings from minor rivers or creeks.
Historically, Delta producers have enjoyed high cotton yields because of irrigation methods that supply water when and where needed. Due to the topography of non-Delta ground, much of it cannot be irrigated so it is referred to as dryland cotton, even though it may receive a significant amount of rainfall. Delta fields, however, are usually graded, and center-pivot irrigation methods are used.
Most of the breeding for Mississippi cotton varieties takes place in the Delta, but much of Wallace's research has been in developing cotton adapted to the hill sections of the state. Because the Delta is so important in cotton production, Wallace's cotton is evaluated there also.
"In hill cotton development, we are just now reaching the stage in which several strains of cotton are showing potential in performance," Wallace said.
Three MAFES cotton strains, two of which came from this breeding program, were included in the 1999 Cotton Variety Testing Program for comparison of performance to commercial varieties. Performance in the Variety Test may take place on up to 12 locations in both the Delta and the hill section, and is critical to the success of a variety.
Breeding lines are evaluated at both research stations and at on-farm sites. With the development of herbicide resistant, or transgenic, varieties, testing conventional breeding lines at on-farm sites is becoming more difficult because many producers have switched to a weed control program that is not compatible with the conventional, or non-transgenic, breeding lines being evaluated.
Varietal development is a long-term investment of both money and time, taking from eight to 10 years.
"Controlling weeds is a problem faced by all cotton producers. To test plots that are off-station, I look for producers who use conventional weed control and tillage methods, use pre-emergent herbicides and who will let me test varieties in their fields," Wallace said.
Additionally, Wallace's cotton research includes plant growth regulator work to determine the effect of experimental compounds on plant growth and yield, evaluations of transgenic varieties, and research on plant populations, leaf shapes and plant types best suited for ultra-narrow row production.
Contact: Dr. Ted Wallace, (662) 325-2726