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On-Farm Variety Trials:  Helping Farmers Prepare

On-Farm Variety Trials: Helping Farmers Prepare

Choosing the right variety of cotton to plant is a major decision for farmers.  They want to choose a variety that offers them the best opportunity to harvest a bountiful and quality crop.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System provides farmers with important guidance with its on-farm variety trials. Currently, Alabama Extension is gearing up for its 2015 on-farm variety trials.

What Are On-Farm Variety Trials?

ACES experts conduct on-farm variety trials to determine the best cotton varieties for Alabama farmers to plant. Extension efforts are complimented by the variety trials that Auburn Univeristy agriculture researchers plant at Auburn’s research centers.

The process is long but provides important information for Alabama cotton farmers. The process begins around March by when Extension specialists contact cotton producers to confirm locations to conduct variety trials.

William Birdsong, an Extension agronomist, said cotton farmers choose to work with Extension to develop on-farm variety trials because they receive information directly and get to see firsthand how different seeds grow on their land with their tools. After planting sites are secured, seed companies are contacted in hopes of getting seed provided for this process. Birdsong said the seed is needed by the first week of April to ensure timely planting.

Once the seed has arrived, Extension experts separate seeds into on-farm locations and store it on the producer’s farms. At planting, at least three Extension profesionals are at the farms on the morning of planting documenting what varieties are planted in which plots. After planting is completed, Extension experts visit the plots monthly to check on the crop’s progress. In late September, they will be back on farms when producers pick cotton.

Extension cotton specialists and agents take  the cotton to a micro cotton gin to record weights and take a small sample of cotton fiber. The cotton fiber is then sent to a cotton-classing office, which examines the thickness, length, strength and amount of trash in the fiber.

“When identifying the best cotton varieties, many factors must be considered. We look at how well it germinates, strong early-season growth, how well it tolerates severe conditions, such as drought, and of course the bottom line is yield and fiber quality,” explained Dr. Dale Monks, who currently serves as the director of research operations for Auburn’s College of Agriculture.  Monks worked many years as Alabama Extension’s primary cotton agronomist.

Easy to Access Variety Trial Information

Lastly, the data returns to Extension experts who organize information into charts and disseminate the findings through the Alabama Crops website.  The Extension cotton teams shares the information through the Alabama Crops Twitter and Facebook feeds.

The newest way farmers can access Extension’s on-farm variety trial information is through the Alabama Crops app.

“Farmers don’t have time to look at websites for this information. Our app notifies farmers of the results of these on-farm variety trials, news, new technology and Extension information,” Monks added.

The research Extension specialists do helps farmers prepare in a number of ways. Birdsong said, “Farmers are able to see what varieties work, which ones don’t work and if there are any acute problems with the varieties planted. The information we provide helps these farmers make a better decision on which varieties they use on their farms in the future.”

To learn more about on-farm variety trials and find the on-farm variety trials results, check out the Alabama Cooperative Extension System website.

About Veronica Rodriguez