Grower Perspective

Proof in the back-fruit: Cotton farmers don’t back down

Mother Nature gave Coastal Bend cotton producers a fight. But some growers prevailed and sent her packing.


With more than 30 inches of off-season rainfall, a hurricane, and tropical storms this year, Mother Nature certainly gave Coastal Bend cotton producers a fight. But some growers prevailed and sent her packing.

“By June, we didn’t think we’d have much of a crop at all,” said Chet Zdunkewicz, who farms with his dad near Needville, Texas. But Zdunkewicz, who grows PhytoGen® brand varieties just like his father and grandfather did, explained the cotton went into survival mode, hung tough and kept fruiting, making 2-bale cotton.

“PhytoGen 340 [W3FE] has been our top dog for about five years. It hangs with us in wet years or dry years and does well. On average, we can get 1,000-plus lb./A., but this year we’ve been very surprised after what this crop went through,” Zdunkewicz said.

Many growers throughout the Coastal Bend are aware PhytoGen brand varieties have been the highest yielding in Texas A&M University (TAMU) trials for several years, and again in 2021. They may not realize, however, the resilience of varieties such as PhytoGen brand PHY 340 W3E and PHY 400 W3FE is due to their high affinity to recover from early season stress. With aggressive fruit-loading, these varieties have the unique ability to fill fruiting branches that may have lost fruit in the excess rains.

The tenacity of PhytoGen® brand varieties was also proven in TAMU early emergence ratings, strongly outperforming all competitive varieties. PhytoGen cottonseed had 12 of the 15 fastest-emerging varieties across South Texas.

Zdunkewicz is a longtime fan of the seedling vigor of PhytoGen brand varieties, preferring to plant early to catch spring rains. The combination proved omnipotent this year as growers throughout Fort Bend County were unprepared for the 10-plus inches of rain and standing water for the month of May.

“The seedling vigor is outstanding, and the ability to load fruit back on after adversity is incredible. You can’t ask for anything better in my eyes,” he said.

To top off the record-setting season, Hurricane Ida delivered 60 to 70-mile-an-hour winds a week before harvest. The PhytoGen brand varieties along the Coastal Bend showed remarkable storm tolerance versus competitive varieties, proving its all-star ability to perform in adverse conditions.

While saturated fields can get the best of crops, unfortunately weeds flourish.

“The Enlist [weed control system] made all the difference this year,” Zdunkewicz said. “Enlist took care of what looked like a solid field of weeds. One trip and they were done. Enlist Duo works well, and I like that we don’t have to mix it.”

And the fourth-generation farmer doesn’t put his neighbors’ crops at risk.

“We wait for the right conditions, we treat the product right and we spray per the label,” he said.

Zdunkewicz said he made his choice after seeing too many trials in which dicamba knocked back the weeds but didn’t eliminate them like Enlist Duo® herbicide does.

Further along the Coastal Bend in the Brazos Valley, the Giesenschlags heard about the trait technology and resilience of PhytoGen brand varieties. Once fans of PhytoGen brand PHY 499 WRF, they decided to give the new varieties a try.

“PHY 400 [W3FE] not only gave us a second chance but a third chance to salvage a crop after lots of moisture and weed pressure,” R.J. Giesenschlag said. He explained the variety back-filled the missing nodes enabling him to harvest 4-bale cotton in his Snook, Texas, test plot in a 2-bale year.

“In a year like this, we could have been left with nothing, but we’ve got a crop. The main difference for us is the durability of this cotton and the Enlist technology. Once we cleared out the weeds, the cotton took off growing,” Giesenschlag said.

Both growers leaned heavily on the Enlist® weed control system to annihilate the abundance of weed pressure brought on from all the wet field conditions.

“I’m sure glad we posted the Enlist system field signs. Neighbors were commenting on the pigweed control,” Giesenschlag remarked about the neighbors’ surprise at the effectiveness of the product.

Want to learn more about PhytoGen brand varieties? See the proof at PhytoGenCottonseed.com/facts.