An early, thick canopy; high yields; high fiber quality and a cotton price 3¢ above the loan!

Not a bad cotton crop — if you can keep the sheriff from declaring your field against the law.

Some may describe (tongue in cheek) the okra-leaf varieties from FiberMax as the perfect design for a pro-marijuana T-shirt. The five-leaf growth certainly causes a double take by passersby. But the only thing Royce Carthel and other FiberMax growers are high on are the yields, quality and better prices they're seeing from the unique cotton.

Carthel grows about 650 acres of irrigated cotton near Plainview, TX. Like other growers, he likes to plant a few acres of new varieties that have shown good performance traits. Last year, he planted about 60 acres to FiberMax 832 from Aventis CropScience to compare it to popular varieties from Paymaster and other seed companies.

Planted into corn stubble in 30" rows, the variety was grown under center-pivot irrigation. And the half circle performed as well or better than any other varieties popular in the southern High Plains region.

“It yielded 1,496 lbs, or just under three bales per acre,” says Carthel, who is normally happy to see a two-bale crop.

The high yields will tie in nicely with the contract he and other growers have with a local gin, as well as an excellent premium expected for quality.

Carthel marketed his FiberMax crop last spring for 750 points, or 7.5¢/lb under December futures. He also had hoped for a 3¢-over-loan premium, but much of his region was hit with lower micronaire ratings, and his crop didn't quite qualify.

“It yielded just under three bales per acre.”
— Royce Carthel

The unique cottons come from Australian seed lines developed by Cotton Seed International (CSI). In a joint venture, Aventis and CSI introduced the seed to the U.S. for the 1998 crop. They also have normal-leaf varieties, which carry similar characteristics. Performance tests in Texas, North Carolina and other locations have shown the FiberMax varieties to yield longer fiber than competitive varieties. These longer fibers are popular with textile mills, which are willing to pay a premium for the higher fiber quality.

Steve Livingston, Texas A&M University extension agronomist in Corpus Christi, says growers in some regions have received 3-5¢ premiums for growing certain varieties. “Mills like it,” he says. “With its longer, stronger fibers, this type of cotton can be spun faster with fewer interruptions.”

After some growers saw such strong results from 1999 Texas plantings, much of the Texas Coastal Bend and Lower Rio Grande Valley cotton areas turned to the unique varieties for 2000. Livingston says results for both years have been excellent.

“It has been a home run so far, but I like to see a third year of consistency before being completely sold on a new cotton,” he says.

There have been no major problems with high micronaire measurements with the varieties, another sign of high quality, says James Supak, Texas A&M agronomist in College Station. “It's not any kind of a miracle cotton,” he says. “It must have its normal complement of water. But it looks good so far.”

One possible drawback is that the varieties don't feature a herbicide-resistant gene, such as Roundup Ready. However, Aventis plans to breed the Liberty Link gene into the cotton lines and have them available to growers by 2003.

But Carthel doesn't seem worried about weed control.

“We incorporated Prowl herbicide before planting, then came back with an application of Karmex (diuron),” he says. “Since the plants developed such a thick canopy early on, there were few weed problems that couldn't be solved with some minor hoeing.

“I actually spent less on weed control than I did on my Roundup Ready varieties,” Carthel adds.

Livingston notes that, in thinner stands of okra-leaf varieties, the canopy is more open, allowing better penetration of insecticides and better air movement. This reduces the chance for boll rot, which sometimes occurs in cotton in more humid areas.

Carthel would like to see the Bollgard gene bred into the plant for better worm control. He also wants to try more limited-irrigation trials to determine how well the varieties produce using less water.

Now if he can just keep the sheriff off his back.