Earl Williams left president of the California Cotton Growers Association and CCGA chairman and grower Cannon Michael of Los Banos Calif flank Western Farm Press editor Harry Cline center who received the associationrsquos Distinguished Service Award earlier this year at the associationrsquos annual meeting

Earl Williams, left, president of the California Cotton Growers Association, and CCGA chairman and grower Cannon Michael of Los Banos, Calif., flank Western Farm Press editor Harry Cline, center, who received the association’s Distinguished Service Award earlier this year at the association’s annual meeting.

Attaboys aplenty to California, Arizona cotton industry

They’re called attaboys; plaques given to folks by organizations to recognize a person’s work or accomplishments.

Over the years, I have received far more than a fair share of attaboys. It is always humbling and embarrassing to receive recognition for something I feel absolutely privileged to do.

Earlier this year the California Cotton Growers Association presented me with its Distinguished Service Award.

There was a picture taken at the presentation. It has not run in Western Farm Press until now. I admit to an overblown ego, but a picture of me getting an award from California cotton growers is most uncomfortable, especially when I recall the photos I have taken of past recipients. It is running here because I want to acknowledge CCGA for the nice honor and thank its members once again. The Arizona Cotton Growers Association presented me with a similar award and my successor Cary Blake, the new editor of Western Farm Press, elected to run a photo of me in a recent issue.

As I struggled with what do to in acknowledging these attaboys, I sought the counsel of Farm Press’ director of content and friend Forrest Laws. He has been in this business almost as long as I have and has picked up plenty of attaboys. His wise counsel was to write about these recognitions by acknowledging how absolutely vital the hundreds of growers, ginners, marketers and others in the cotton industry have been to me in doing my job. I could not have written one line of a single story without them. Thanks, Forrest. You are spot on.

I have written about cotton almost my entire career and that journey has taken me from West Texas to Arizona to California. I love cotton. Western cotton is an incredible success story. A cotton article may well be the last one I write.

Western Farm Press has been criticized as a “cotton magazine.” Guilty as charged. Cotton was long the primary topic of Farm Press, and cotton will be a part of the publication for as long as I’m around.  Unfortunately, though, cotton acreage has declined dramatically in California and Arizona, and you see far more stories about non-cotton crops in these pages today.  Other crops simply offer more profit as farming costs skyrocket. Make no mistake, though, cotton paid for every piece of dirt in the Southern San Joaquin Valley and Arizona, with fields now growing melons, lettuce, broccoli, strawberries, processing tomatoes, almonds, grapes, pistachios, pomegranates, walnuts  and the list goes on and on. Cotton made the southern San Joaquin Valley and Arizona the agricultural successes they are today.

Some like to unfairly criticize cotton for things like pesticide and water use. California and Arizona cotton growers are the most progressive practitioners of Integrated Pest Management of any agricultural group. They have reduced pesticide use dramatically over the years.

The San Joaquin Valley pink bollworm program is a stellar example of that. For 45 years — four and a half decades — the pink bollworm has been kept out of the San Joaquin with one of the most innovative pest exclusion programs ever created. Every dime of the program's cost came out of the farmers’ pockets. That program saved millions of dollars in pesticide costs and precluded the need to apply millions of pounds of pesticides by using pheromone technology and sterile moth drops. It is one of the most successful pest exclusion programs ever in American agriculture.

Cotton respect

Arizona cotton growers are right there with their IPM achievements. They were one of the first to eradicate the boll weevil and demonstrated remarkable product stewardship and IPM in turning back the whitefly. They were the leaders in pioneering Bt technology cotton that reduced pesticide use immensely. Today Arizona’s cotton growers are on the threshold of eradicating the world’s most destructive cotton pest, pink bollworm, not only in the Grand Canyon State, but Arizona’s  cotton industry also provided leadership to do the same thing across Northern Mexico, New Mexico and Far West Texas.

California and Arizona cotton wrote the book on IPM before it ever became fashionable.

Water used to grow 3- and 4-bale cotton but fallen dramatically over the years from 4 acre feet or more to a matter of inches, using technology like laser leveling, GPS technology and drip irrigation.

California and Arizona cotton growers have turned back challenge after challenge while not only producing but successfully marketing high quality cotton in demand worldwide.

I could go on endlessly about the successes of the California and Arizona cotton industry, and will warble on later.

For now, let me say that I have huge admiration and respect for the Western cotton industry. Perhaps more important, I am indebted to a multitude of people  in the industry who have allowed me to do my job of reporting on cotton. Thank you for answering my phone calls and allowing me to visit your farms and gins. Thank you for answering my questions, even when they were strange. You never made me feel as dumb as I seemed sometimes.

I would like to name lots of names, and may before I write my “30” column. For now, please accept my abiding appreciation for allowing me to be a small part of your industry. Attaboys by the truckloads to you all.


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