GENET archive


2-Plants: Modern production methods can lead to pesticide reduction in cotton

-------------------------- GENET-news ---------------------------

TITLE:  Ultra-narrow-row cotton
SOURCE: US Department of Agriculture
DATE:   January 2000

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Dear GENET-news readers,
are RR-cotton and Bt-cotton the life science's answers on the problems of grandparents' cotton production methods? One might think so after having read this article - for the complete story please look at the web page.

Hartmut Meyer


Ultra-Narrow-Row Cotton

For more than a century, farmers planted cotton in wide rows
about 30 to 40 inches apart. Their choices were limited, as was
their equipment, which was usually just a mule-driven plow.
Today, farmers are experimenting with planting cotton much closer
together, in rows ranging from about 7-1/2 to 10 inches wide.
Research is under way at ARS locations to make production of this
ultra-narrow-row (UNR) cotton more economical for farmers.

"With UNR cotton, a farmer can plant more rows and potentially
harvest more cotton per acre," says William T. Molin, a plant
physiologist with ARS' Southern Weed Science Research Unit in
Stoneville, Mississippi. "Also, since rows are planted closer
together, cotton crowds the weeds out, reducing the need for
midseason herbicide applications." Molin and other ARS
researchers are participating in a 10-year project looking at
varying aspects of long-term UNR cotton productiončfrom managing
weeds to processing.

"There's not enough solid information on UNR cotton available to
farmers," says Molin. "So they are either growing UNR cotton and
seeing what works best, or they are avoiding it altogether
because of lack of information." In 1998, Molin began field
studies on 40 acres to compare UNR cotton with conventional
cotton. "We grew 12 popular varieties, using both wide and ultra
narrow rows," says Molin. "Our results showed the UNR crop was
comparable in yield to conventional cotton."

Molin also looked at key fiber characteristics of UNR and
conventional cotton. Although the fiber characteristics are more
favorable in conventional cotton - fibers are longer and less
tangled - he says by improving crop management and harvesting
techniques, UNR cotton quality should also improve. "We're
working toward developing management systems that will establish
criteria for growing UNR cotton in the Delta," Molin says.

Conservation practices are important in growing cotton - a
primary cash crop for early U.S. settlers. As they scurried to
plant more acres in the 1700s, excessive planting allowed more
soil erosion to occur. Now ARS scientists with the Soil Dynamics
Research Laboratory in Auburn, Alabama, and the Coastal Plains
Soil, Water, and Plant Research Center in Florence, South
Carolina, are helping farmers put conservation practices that
help prevent soil erosion to work. For two growing seasons, ARS
agronomists D. Wayne Reeves and Philip J. Bauer conducted a study
to look at the effects of residue management and nitrogen
fertilization on UNR cotton in Auburn and Florence.

"We used conservation tillage practices in ultra-narrow-row
cotton," says Reeves, with the Auburn unit. "The cotton was grown
on Coastal Plains soils that are typically sandy, subject to soil
compaction, and unproductive for row crops like cotton." Bauer
adds, "We found the rate of nitrogen fertilizer for UNR cotton
should be between 60 and 80 pounds of nitrogen per acrečabout the
same as for conventional-row-width cotton on these soils." He
says that when cotton is planted after a legume cover crop, less
nitrogen fertilizer is needed.

Another study using cover crops revealed a 60 percent higher lint
yield when UNR cotton followed a cover crop of black oats or
wheat, compared to conventionally planted cotton in 40-inch rows.
Merging the UNR system with modern conservation technologies and
using cover crops can reduce crop production inputs, conserve
soil and moisture, and improve yields, says Reeves.


UNR in Other Regions

V.T. Walhood, in Shafter, California, who has since retired,
conducted pioneering experiments in the 1960s through 1980s on
the growth and yield of ultra-narrow-row cotton. His experiments
showed that planting three rows of early-maturing cotton in the
space normally allocated for one row of a mid- to late-season
cotton produced the same yield and gave a bonus: They harvested
the early cottons before populations of pink bollworms had a
chance to build up to troublesome levels.

Another Shafter scientist, Angus Hyer, included narrow-row
cottons in his research nursery of more than 150 experimental
lines. When he offered his experimental cottons, with features
such as improved resistance to insects or diseases, to commercial
breeders in the late 1980s, most U.S. cotton seed companies tried

Several years after Hyer's death, F. Douglas Wilson, a
collaborator at ARS' Western Cotton Research Laboratory, Phoenix,
Arizona, scrutinized Hyer's collection to make sure the best
performing lines made their way safely into ARS genebanks as
permanent resources for breeders worldwide.

At Lubbock, Texas, ARS scientists in the Cotton Production and
Processing Research Unit are also conducting experiments
comparing yield and fiber quality of UNR versus conventional
cotton using two varieties. ARS agricultural engineer Alan D.
Brashears harvested 40-inch-row cotton and narrow-row cotton.
"Our preliminary results showed there wasn't much difference in
quality or yield between UNR and conventional cotton," he says.


By Tara Weaver-Missick, Hank Becker, Don Comis, Jan Suszkiw, and
Marcia Wood, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.

This research is part of Soil Resource Management (#202),
Integrated Farming Systems (#207), Crop Protection and Quarantine
(#304), Crop Production (#305), and New Uses, Quality, and
Marketability of Plant and Animal Products (#306), ARS National
Programs described on the World Wide Web at http:/

Scientists mentioned in this story can be contacted through
Tara Weaver-Missick, USDA-ARS Information Staff
5601 Sunnyside Ave.
Beltsville, MD 20705-5129
phone (301) 504-1619
fax (301) 504-1641

"Ultra-Narrow-Row Cotton" was published in the January 2000 issue
of Agricultural Research magazine. 


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