Not since the Great Depression have so few acres of cotton been grown in the Golden State.
Water availability due to the drought and the competition for high-value crops is largely to blame for dwindling cotton acres, which in 2015 will total about 162,000 acres, according to a survey by the California Pink Bollworm Program.
The last time cotton acreage was this low in California was before the stock market crash of 1929.
According to the Pink Bollworm survey, Upland acreage could total just over 46,000 acres and Pima plantings are reported at just under 116,000 acres. Cotton growers are planting more Pima this year tied to a marked difference in price, according to Roger Isom, president of the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association.
Isom has watched cotton acreage decrease significantly over the past several years and hopes this year’s total reflects a “bottoming out.” The cotton leader holds out hope that water availability and market conditions will become favorable in the near future.
“Cotton is a great rotational crop,” Isom said. “If our acreage gets any lower, we’re going to have some problems with our infrastructure.”
Isom said several California gins have closed in the last few years due to a lack of cotton. It is not known at this point whether those gins will reopen.
Much of the state’s cotton continues is planted in the San Joaquin Valley (SJV). One-third of the total SJV cotton acreage this year (51,260 acres) and over 42 percent of its Pima crop (48,680 acres) is grown in Kings County.
Upland still popular
Much of the cotton grown this year in the Imperial Valley and Riverside County remains Upland. The entire Sacramento Valley crop – all 2,682 acres – is planted in Upland varieties.
California cotton acreage climbed steadily after the Great Depression, peaking in 1979 at over 1.6 million acres of mostly Upland cotton.
Pima did not become a popular option until the late 1980s when the number of acres devoted to long-staple, longer-season crop grew tremendously.
Pima acreage peaked at 274,000 in 2006 with 687,000 bales produced. Pima production actually increased the following year on fewer acres planted. In 2007, growers produced 793,000 bales of Pima on 257,000 acres.
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Upland production peaked in 1981 at over 3.5 million bales on more than 1.5 million acres harvested.