Researchers use natural methods to develop drought-resistant cotton seed

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Here in north Alabama, Lauderdale and Madison counties are among the top ten cotton-producing counties in the state according to the Alabama Farmers Federation. With the world’s climate changing, scientists are developing new ways to reduce environmental stress. Boston researchers say they’ve developed a breakthrough drought-resistant seed.

Indigo Co-Founder Geoffrey Von Maltzahn said natural solutions exist to the problem.

“Water stress and drought in cotton is the most important stress in agriculture that has almost no solutions today. Remarkably, nature has found a whole bunch of solutions to that in the microbiome.”

Think of a microbiome as a plant’s gut filled with tiny microbes. Researchers discovered which ones deal with water stress and then coated the seeds with those specific microbes, to make them more resilient in dry conditions.
The plants are exposed to scorching temperatures in grow rooms and then they’re tested in the hot fields. It’s an effort to combat long-term droughts like the four-year one that hit Lubbock, Texas in 2011.

Farmer Stetson Hogue said the environmental changes are creating fewer farmers.

“We’ve definitely lost a few growers in the last few years, and I would say that certainly has more to do with the whole economics of farming, the whole environment that we’re dealing with.”

Some farmers believe the droughts are part of normal weather trends but see an economic benefit to seeds that can perform better in dry conditions.

Researchers say their methodology is more natural, rather than genetically modified mass-produced seeds.

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