PORTAGEVILLE -- Cotton farmers planning to purchase their seed varieties the day they plant -- or even a week or two before-- might want to rethink their strategy.
Last season's wet harvest mixed with a short supply of genetically engineered varieties can leave farmers empty-handed if they put off booking their cotton seed for too long.
"Put your name in the pot early," suggested Bobby Phipps, extension cotton specialist at the Missouri Delta Center. "If you wait until the day you plant, it's already picked over."
The trend over the last few years has been for producers to wait until the last minute to purchase their seed, Phipps noted.
"The good varieties seem to go first," Phipps noted. "It's kind of like when you buy something and it's backordered -- that's what could happen to farmers who wait too long to book their seed."
Not only does booking seed in advance help the producer, but it also tells the seed company where the demand is for the seed. Seed dealers don't want to wait and then find out all of the varieties have been shipped to other areas, Phipps explained.
Louisiana and Mississippi had a horrible year with the rain last fall, and they produce a lot of the seed area farmers purchase.
Delta Growers Association Kewanee Plant Manager Art McMillen said they get 60-70 percent of their seed from Louisiana and Mississippi. Despite rumors, he said he hasn't heard of any variety shortages yet.
"I'd say 90 percent of farmers wait about two weeks before booking their seed," McMillen said. "Very few book before that. Of course, some areas are worse than others."
December is when farmers need to start booking, McMillen joked. But seriously, without farmers booking their seed early, seed dealers like McMillen must play a guessing game as to which varieties farmers are going to want to use this season.
While there are different varieties, there aren't a lot of large quantities of each variety, Phipps reminded. It takes a few years before an adequate supply is built, he said.
"It used to be farmers would ask which seed is going to yield the most," Phipps said. "Now days, they ask which engineered gene works best for weed control and insect control, especially since cotton growers have had problems with budworms and bollworms."
By asking those questions, that leaves about two-thirds varieties left to choose from, Phipps noted. Bt and Round-Up ready crops are popular, but farmers should pick out one that is a consistent yielder, particularly one with two years of test results, although there aren't many that have been around in public trial longer than two years, he said.
"Also look at what your neighbors are doing. If you see a field close to yours that's pretty consistent and has done good in your neighborhood, go with it. Or maybe plant part of a field with one variety and the other with another variety," Phipps advised.
All farmers have different techniques of farming and different land and soil, Phipps acknowledged.
"Just don't jump in head first," Phipps advised. "Test the waters a little bit."
Jim Johnson, manger of Southeast Co-Op Service Company in Morehouse, said the reason a lot of farmers wait to book seed is because they want to see what the weather does first. Once they buy it and treat it, they're committed to taking it, he said.
"They don't want to get hung in it," Johnson said. "We don't want to get hung into it either because we don't want to get stuck with a lot of extra seed."
But McMillen said it's a win-win situation for farmers.
For people who have the money and can pay early, there are discounts available, McMillen said. This also assures them the varieties they want, he explained.
"If farmers order 400 pounds of seed and only use 200 of it, then they only have to pay for 200 pounds," McMillen explained. "There's no way farmers can lose from ordering early -- and it helps us out, too."