Monday, March 24, 2014

GMO Cotton's not perfect.....WHAT??

For two years now, I have raved about the benefits of the GMO cottonseed that The Farmer I Kiss plants.  So why now would I say it's not perfect??  Well, that's because besides a beautiful newborn grandchild, nothing in the world is perfect.
This is a low lying lake area that Daniel was not able to plow after planting
It took me several tries to get permission from Daniel to show these photos.  Why?  Because farmers don't like their fields to look messy and this is pretty messy.  If you are not all that familiar with cotton fields, you may just think that this is a photo of cotton waiting to be harvested.  You would be wrong.  This part of the field has been harvested.  What you are seeing is called Volunteer Cotton.
Our varieties are storm resistant, but some locks still wind up on the ground
Throughout the growing season, locks of cotton can fall out of the burr to the ground.  Also, as we harvest in the fall, pieces of cotton fall to the ground.  Both of these situations result in cotton which contains cottonseed lying on the ground.  The next spring, those seed sprout and grow Volunteer Cotton in the blank spaces between the newly planted rows of cotton, essentially making those Volunteer Cotton plants "weeds."
The Volunteer Cotton plants usually sprout early in the season, and are more mature than the cotton in the rows. 
The smaller stalks are from the cotton planted in the rows.  The larger stalk is a Volunteer Cotton stalk.
The definition of a weed on a cotton farm is any plant that is growing and taking valuable nutrients and more valuable water away from the rows of planted cotton.  The rouge Volunteer Cotton plants must be controlled just like any other weed because they are not harvestable in the fall.  (Disclaimer:  There are ways to harvest cotton that is not in the rows, but that requires additional harvesting equipment, fuel or trips over the field which makes the process close to impossible.)
Notice the small amount of cotton that is left on the ground after the cotton stripper has passed.
So here's the part about GMO cottonseed being less than perfect.  The particular varieties of GMO cottonseed that we plant has the genetic trait from the pansy flower that allows us to spray glyphosate herbicide (the chemical in Round-Up) in the field of growing cotton.  This kills the weeds but leaves the cotton unharmed.  But since the Volunteer Cotton that we are considering a weed is resistant to the herbicide, it does not die like the other weeds.
This is in another low lying lake area on the farm of a neighbor.  Notice the harvested rows of bare stalks.
To control the Volunteer Cotton, you have to get the plows back out and plow between the rows of cotton.  Not having to plow the land after it is planted is the whole idea behind planting GMO cottonseed with the glyphosate resistant genetic trait.  The Farmer I Kiss would get to plant and then leave the soil undisturbed to preserve the moisture, but the Volunteer Cotton issue is requiring an early plowing.
This is more representative of the Volunteer Cotton population where the field was plowed early after planting.
One solution is to rotate between varieties of cottonseed that would have resistance to another herbicide such as Dicamba.  That way, the field could be sprayed with a herbicide that your planted cotton is resistant to, but the Volunteer Cotton would not be resistant to it.  Another solution is to rotate the fields with wheat or grain sorghum from year to year.  This allows for different types of herbicides to be used to rid the fields of the Volunteer Cotton plants.  We do have a rotation plan, but we plant cotton for 2 to 3 years in a row before rotating.  So in the meantime, The Farmer I Kiss gets to plow, which he really loves to do, so he really doesn't mind the fact that GMO cotton is not perfect!
When this is the result, some small imperfections are easy to deal with!
Updated:  After a few questions, I thought it would be good to add a little more information.  (1) Why not just leave the Volunteer Cotton Plants?  They get really big and grow very big stalks, which takes a huge amount of water.  Something we have very little of out here next to the Chihuahuan Desert! (2) Why not spray a different herbicide before you plant to kill the Volunteer Cotton and the weeds.  The herbicide that you would have to use can damage or destroy growing grain crops that may be too close to your field.  Drift with these other herbicides is a big problem and one that we choose to avoid.  Round Up does not have quite the drift problems of other herbicides, so we use that exclusively at this time.  (3)  What kind of machine would you have to use to harvest the Volunteer Cotton.  I posted a link here to see the different header (part out in front that gathers the cotton) that would be put on the cotton stripper to get the cotton that is either not in rows or in ultra narrow rows.  It would mean changing out the the front part of the stripper, a pretty major task, then driving all over your field again, which is bad for compacting the soil and using lots of fuel.


  1. Thanks for your blog. I'm just learning about growing cotton, and this post as well as your others are very helpful.

    1. Thanks for reading GTT! I hope to be getting some great new blogs out in the next couple of months.

  2. Hi! So I see that your farm is a dry land cotton farm. I was wondering if any of the strains of cotton that you use have GMO components that help with drought resistance? I have spoken with a biology grad student at my college about his research in drought resistant plants and it seems to be something that could be extremely beneficial to farms such as yours. Do you have any in put or experience about such plant strains? Thanks!

    1. Hi Madison, thanks so much for reading! The "GMO" portion of the cotton that we plant is actually the Round Up Ready and Boll Guard biotechnology where a certain gene has been inserted into the cotton genome. The Round Up Ready gene allows us to spray Round Up Herbicide over the growing cotton crop if needed to control weeds. The Boll Guard gene prevents damage to the growing cotton from the cotton boll worm without the need for us to spray any insecticide.
      The drought resistant traits in our cotton have been developed by crossbreeding different types of cotton varieties in hopes of gaining only a good trait from one or the other parent plants. These are two very different methods that both bring about genetic modifications.
      We are in desperate need of more drought resistant cotton varieties! So please tell your friend to keep working on it. One of my other blogs talks about how we choose our variety of cotton each year. Go to the March 2013 blog Decision 2013 and it has some more info on this.
      Thanks so much for reading!!