Transgenic Versus Conventional Cotton Debated

Beltwide Cotton Conferences examines pluses and minuses of genetically modified cottons compared with traditional cotton varieties.

Published on: Jan 9, 2013

To plant expensive transgenic cotton seed, or less expensive traditional seed—which is more profitable?

The ongoing 2013 Beltwide Cotton Conferences in San Antonio has wrestled with that question this week.

John R. Robinson, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service cotton marketing economist, College Station, told attendees it all comes down to reducing cost up front with conventional cotton seed, but by doing so, being willing to take greater risks during the season with an outbreak of insects or proliferation of weeds.

Robinson said there's perhaps a $50 per acre advantage up front by planting conventional cotton seed versus genetically modified cotton varieties. Nevertheless, he noted the Texas A&M number crunching shows total budget costs may be the same for the entire season because of increased yields from GMO cottons.

Transgenic Versus Conventional Cotton Debated
Transgenic Versus Conventional Cotton Debated

Dan Fromme, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension specialist, Corpus Christi, said many growers prefer GMO cotton, despite its upfront costs, because of both labor savings and less equipment savings.

Charles Allen, AgriLife Extension entomologist, San Angelo, noted there is far less public support to help farmers with management decisions –like insect or weed control nowadays—as land grant colleges and others have suffered big personnel and funding cutbacks for agriculture.

Allen says the cutbacks have made farmers, including cotton growers, more dependent on market-driven assistance rather than public sector institutions.

"Farmers have crossed the bridge into the transgenic era," Allen said.

He said the transgenic trend began 17 years ago, and is firmly in place now.

Jim Johnson, a veteran of 35 years as a crop consultant at Corpus Christi, said conventional cotton can be used in some situations. Texas is a big place, and different regions may face different challenges, such as a variety of insect pests or particular weeds. For example, in his Coastal Bend region, stink bugs have become a real headache.

Russell Jungmann, a Bishop, Texas cotton grower, said he plants both transgenic and conventional cottons, which may vary field to field. But there are some growers in his area that plant either all transgenic or all conventional cotton—going to one or the other.

Jungmann said much of the net return to depends on insects. With light insect pressure, conventional cotton may be best. But with heavy insect infestations, GMO cottons will show the best net returns.

Breeding work toward advances in conventional cottons also is continuing today.

"New and improved conventional cottons claim to yield with GMO cotton and grade as well as transgenic cotton too," Jungmann said.