Cotton planting intentions in Arizona and California generally mirror the national willingness to plant more of the fiber crop in 2016.
Growers could plant 161,000 total acres of cotton in Arizona and 201,000 in California, an increase over what they actually planted in 2015, according to the National Cotton Council.
The national attitude appears a bit more eager to plant cotton as acreage is projected to top 9.1 million acres, 6.2 percent more than what growers planted in 2015. Still, national cotton acreage in 2016 could still be lower than what was planted per year going back to at least 2004.
Part of this eagerness to plant cotton, particularly in states like California and Arizona, stems from slightly improved water supplies in both states, according to growers who spoke with Western Farm Press.
Arizona cotton grower Dennis Palmer says he may plant upwards of 3,800 acres of mostly extra-long staple (ELS) varieties in the Safford area of southeastern Arizona.
Palmer, the recipient of the 2016 High Cotton Award from Western Farm Press, was still planting cotton in late April. Alternating hot and cold spells and “horrible winds” in April made for what Palmer characterized as “a horrible spring” planting season.
“The one thing I’ve learned is Mother Nature is always in charge out here,” he said.
Still, Palmer is optimistic about his water availability and the growing season to boost his planting intentions a little higher than what he grew last year.
Though much of Arizona’s cotton planting intentions appear to be in the short-staple Upland varieties – growers there told the NCC in a recent planting intentions survey that they’ll plant 137,000 acres of Upland cotton , a 54 percent increase over what they grew last year – Palmer will do the opposite.
He says he will devote about 75 percent of his acreage to the ELS varieties Phytogen PHY 805 and Deltapine’s DP 348 RF. The balance of his acreage will be planted in Upland varieties, including DP 1044 B2RF.
Palmer says he likes growing ELS cotton in his region. He says the Pima varieties do well with yields between two and three bales common.
Roger Isom, president of the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations, says acreage estimates could be a little higher than the NCC projections at 206,000 acres total – 145,000 acres of Pima and 61,000 acres of Acala varieties.
Where that cotton is planted will largely depend on whether growers source their water from the federal Central Valley Project (CVP) or California State Water Project (SWP).
With the exception of the senior water rights holders in the northern cotton growing region of the San Joaquin Valley who will receive a full allotment of surface irrigation water this year, CVP growers in the San Joaquin Valley will receive 5 percent of their water allocation this season.
Canon Michael is one of those growers with senior water rights and a full allocation of surface irrigation this year. Because he grows in a cooler region of the San Joaquin Valley, his growing season is also shorter than others further south.
For that reason Michael says he doesn’t like to have much more than about 800 acres of Pima in the ground, which is what he planted this year.
“Pima is uncertain in the north,” he said. “You can’t plant it here after April 10th because of the increased risk of rain at the end of the season.”
Michael is one of a few growers who plants Hazera, a hybrid cotton seed Michael says has a little better strength than an Acala and about the same yield. He will grow 1,500 acres of Hazera this season.
All of Michael’s cotton is roller ginned, a common practice for just about all cotton that is grown in California today.
Long-time cotton grower Don Cameron says he will not plant cotton this year and instead partition his available water resources in western Fresno County to more profitable crops. Water availability is the chief reason Cameron opted out of growing cotton again this year.
In the past Cameron has grown high-quality ELS varieties of cotton that has been used in Supima branded products. He says he still has some of the high-quality cotton in storage to be sold.
Tulare cotton grower Mark Watte said depressed commodity prices for dairy forages could force him into planting more cotton this year.
Watte expects to plant about 800 acres of cotton. Most of that will be planted in Acala varieties.
Where he cannot plant Acala cotton because of Fusarium Race 4 issues in the soil he said he will plant Pima varieties that tend to be more resilient in those soil conditions.
Watte continues to say he likes to plant the short-staple Acala varieties then roller-gin them after harvest. With the extra yield he gets with the Acala varieties he plants – at least one bale per acre – and the premium paid to roller gin his Acala cotton, it pencils out better economically.
Water availability has been somewhat more positive for Watte this season as his irrigation district actually had some ditch water early in the season for growers to either pre-irrigate fields with or simply spread on their land as a means to replenish aquifers that have suffered significantly during the last several years of drought conditions.
Growers were encouraged to take the temporary supplies of surface water – the first they’ve seen in several years – and make the best use of them.
Winter rains also helped rehydrate soil profiles. Some areas have even seen significant spring thunderstorms, which has been a mixed-blessing for growers.
California cotton acreage has been in steep decline since the late 1990s when acreage still topped one million. Last year just over 160,000 acres of cotton was grown in California.
Isom says he’s been watching California cotton acreage diminish to the point that the infrastructure to process cotton is also shrinking. Isom said three gins closed last year because of the continued reduction in cotton acreage across the Golden State.