Arizona cotton growers may hire breeder

Arizona's long, dry growing season is ideal for producing a large amount of quality planting seed used throughout America's Cotton Belt. And most of the nation's major seed companies have breeding programs in the state

Yet, many Arizona cotton producers are convinced they do not have cotton varieties ideally suited for producing quality lint under their state's growing conditions. They contend that the varieties they grow for seed travel well across most of the U.S. Cotton Belt, except for Arizona.

Ironically, the conditions that make Arizona ideal for planting seed could be having the opposite impact on lint quality.

Arizona producers have all but given up looking for that elusive high quality, high yielding variety in commercial breeding programs and should embark on their own breeding program, according to C.L. “Bill” Scott, longtime Stanfield, Ariz., cotton producer and chairman of the Arizona Cotton Growers Association seed development committee. He told ACGA's annual meeting it is time for growers to hire an Arizona cotton breeder — and do it this year before it is too late.

That breeder may come from California — more specifically from the California Planting Cotton Seed Distributors, 65-year-old San Joaquin Valley grower-owned seed breeding organization.

“We started this process of finding a variety or varieties more suitable for Arizona five years ago,” said Scott. This involved primarily looking at lines being developed by commercial seed breeders, but Scott said this has not proved fruitful.

He acknowledged that “we have some of the best cotton breeders in the world in Arizona.” However, he said, their work is directed by company executives looking for varieties that will adapt to a wider region than Arizona.

Work with CPCSD

“Two years ago we started talking with CPCSD to see if we could develop some kind of relationship with that grower organization,” said Scott. Acreage has been declining in the San Joaquin Valley, and Scott said there was interest from CPCSD to broaden its base.

Arizona has historically had the highest average cotton yields in the nation, but Scott said, “Yield is no longer the thing. It is quality. Mills want stronger, longer and more uniform fiber than what we can provide.

“But the real issue that has brought this to a head is micronaire,” he said. Arizona has some of the highest average micronaire in the nation, and its cotton is discounted more severely than any other area of the Cotton Belt.

Scott said breeders contend the push from growers for higher yielding cottons results in higher micronaire. “But, the facts are that micronaire has gone up and yields have not,” he said.

Another factor that brought the issue to a head was the wide-ranging discussions about poor U.S. cotton quality at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Anaheim, Calif., this year.

Scott cited Memphis cotton merchant W.B. Dunavant's public criticism of U.S. cotton quality, noting however that Dunavant singled out California for praise for its high quality cotton fiber.

“California has kept its yields up and maintained quality,” Scott said. Scott admits that his committee's recommendation that Arizona cotton growers hire their own cotton breeder or contract with CPCSD is a “desperation move.”

Arizona's cotton acreage has fallen to 280,000 acres. It was more than 300,000 at the beginning of the ‘90s and at one time totaled almost 700,000 acres.

Scott and other Arizona producers are concerned that the acreage will decline to a level that it will no longer support the industry's infrastructure. Scott said increasingly more producers are abandoning cotton because of discounted prices.

Contracting with CPCSD is only one alternative, said Scott. “Cotton Incorporated is also active in the issue,” he added.

Scott said his panel will continue to formulate its recommendations and will soon bring it to the cotton growers' association board and eventually to growers for a final decision.

“We need to see what role the University of Arizona can play,” he said.

“I don't think starting our own program will not be as expensive as we thought it would be,” he added.

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