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Okra-Leaf-Shaped Cotton May Increase Profitability

By Tara Weaver
July 30, 1997

Okra-leaf type cotton plants could help U.S. cotton growers cut their production costs without sacrificing yields.

Scientists with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service say okra-leaf type cotton is less prone to boll rot than conventional cotton types, matures earlier and is more resistant to attacks by insects, particularly whiteflies and pink bollworms. The cotton gets its name from its unusual leaves, which are narrower and more evenly distributed on the plant compared with conventional cotton plants.

Boll rot refers to a number of diseases that destroy bolls maturing in warm and humid cotton canopies, a situation more common in normal-leaf types. Growers can harvest okra-leaf types three to nine days earlier and often achieve the same yield as normal-leaf types, a plus during early cold spells or extended wet periods.

Nearly all cotton cultivars grown in the United States have the more typical broader leaf shape. Public and private U.S. research attempts to breed competitive okra-leaf cultivars have been generally unsuccessful.

In the Mississippi Delta, farmers typically spray insecticides on their cotton plants eight to 10 times during the growing season, significantly increasing production costs. Normal-leaf cotton types have a dense canopy of leaves at the top of the plants. These leaves block the chemicals from reaching the middle and lower portions of the plant, where many insects feed.

In contrast, the more open okra-leaf canopy allows better insecticide distribution and insect control throughout the plant. The okra-leaf’s open canopy plus its early maturity can eliminate at least one spray treatment per season.

Okra-leaf types have been a hit in other parts of the world, particularly in Australia where they represent 40 percent of the cotton acreage. ARS scientists are trying to find the right management practices that will allow wider use of okra-leaf types in the United States. More studies are planned to evaluate okra-leaf cotton’s competitiveness and adaptability in the Mississippi Delta.

Scientific contact: James J. Heitholt, Cotton Physiology and Genetics Research, Stoneville, Miss., phone (601) 686-5219, fax (601) 686-5218,