Is 400,000 acres the abyss for California's cotton acreage?

California's cotton acreage will continue to decline. The only question is where will be the bottom?

Earl Williams, president of the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association, said “the general consensus” of the California cotton industry is it will “probably shrink more” in 2007.

Williams made his remarks at a field day sponsored by Hazera Seed Company near Firebaugh, Calif., to growers and others about ready to gather this year's crop, which at 556,000 acres is the lowest California acreage since the 1940s.

They did not want to hear that.

The bottom figure most prominently bantered about is 400,000 acres to 450,000 acres.

If it reaches that level, Williams predicts it will be two-thirds Pima and one-third Acala.

“Other than losing good friends in the ginning and cotton growing business, I am not too dismayed about the future of the California cotton industry,” he added. “For a lot of reasons, the sooner we get to where we are going (on acreage) the better off we are all going to be.”

Cotton is being pushed off long-time cotton ground by higher value trees and vines and alfalfa and corn for the growing dairy industry. Processing tomatoes are expected to take more cotton ground next season with higher prices. Cotton prices have not kept up with rising production costs and there are more attractive alternatives.

Williams believes California will settle about where it has been in the past, the grower and marketer of high quality, high demand cotton.

For decades that was Acala, a longer, stronger Upland cotton. However, other cotton varieties and cotton producing areas can produce similar cottons and deliver it to the mills cheaper than they can buy SJF Acala.

California will have to find another niche.

Fortunately, California has become the Pima capital of the world with a cotton in high demand at high prices. By comparison, Pima is now priced at about $1.30 per pound while Acala is less than 80 cents per pound. And SJV growers can produce just as much Pima per acre as Acala.

Pima is very much a niche cotton and Williams predicts there will be more cotton like that; perhaps roller ginned Acala or other super premium saw-ginned Acalas.

Hybrid Hazera fits into that niche category. It's a Pima type cotton that grows on tougher soils.

“I think as more gins convert to roller gin stands you will see more opportunities for Hazera,” said Williams.

“California will find its place in the market. It will be a smaller market, but it will be a unique market for California cottons,” Williams concluded.

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