`California uplands' must be proven

Testing required to become approved Acalas by Cotton Board For decades San Joaquin Valley cotton producers had fewer than a half dozen cotton varieties from which to chose. Today there are almost too many to count.

There are 23 Acalas and eight Pimas approved for planting by the San Joaquin Valley Cotton Board. If that were not enough, there are at least 50 so-called non-Acala California Uplands from which growers can now select. And, those are just the ones seed companies have decided to market or test in California where the San Joaquin Valley was opened to all varieties three years ago. Basically whatever a seed company wants to seed into the one-million-acre cotton market is legal.

It need not be confusing, however, according to University of California Extension Cotton Specialist Bob Hutmacher and Kings County Farm Advisor Bruce Roberts who hosted a fall cotton tour in Corcoran, Calif., recently where one of many UCCE variety trials is planted.

Selecting a non-Acala is much like making a quick run to a convenience market for a gallon of milk. Just head to the closest trial - in person or via the UCCE website (cottoninfo.ucdavis.edu) - to see which varieties do well under soil, weather and water conditions most like yours, according to Hutmacher.

"Some of these really excelled in specific locations," he said.

Don't disregard valley wide averages, however. They can provide insight into those varieties that do well in a wide array of conditions. However, Hutmacher pay closer attention to your own backyard.

This is really the second year for widescale UCCE

Verticillium wilt California upland comparative yield trials and quality comparisons, and Hutmacher is optimistic the results will be telling, especially in the one area where there is a big unknown among these varieties never before grown in the valley. That is verticillium wilt susceptibility. Critics of opening up the valley contend varieties not bred in the valley do not have wilt resistance necessary yield. That has yet to be validated or invalidated.

Last year, Hutmacher said just two test sites provided verticillium upon which to rate the cottons, and it was late in the year when it came in. This year, however, four locations are showing wilt and that should provide more info on the vert susceptibility of a wide range of these non-Acalas.

However, Roberts cautioned that even though there has been a red flag waved with the possibility of verticillium severely reducing yields on these new cottons, approved varieties also could be significantly impacted by verticillium.

Along with yields, quality is another trait being evaluated. Some of these uplands have shown to have quality approaching or surpassing SJ-2, for many seasons the standard for Acala yarn quality. Better quality Maxxa is now the standard, but many of the uplands have lint quality close to it and some even exceed it.

Some of the so-called California uplands could become approved Acalas if they are tested and approved by the cotton board. Until then, they will remain on the non-approved list.

Regardless of whether the California uplands are approved or not approved, they have been getting mill acceptance, partly because of problems with competitive growths in other parts of the U.S. Cotton Belt.

And, that does not look like it will change this season, as much of the rain-grown areas of the U.S. are suffering through drought and other weather problems. All Mississippi cotton-growing counties have recently been declared disaster areas.

"This is the third year in a row it looks like we will have good demand for these varieties," said Roberts.

"There remains a lot of interest in these cottons and this should be the year we start to get some good answers as to which ones will work best in the valley in specific location," said Hutmacher.

One of the arguments in opening up the valley to non-Acalas is that they were called earlier and therefore could be planted later or harvested earlier and still yield.

While some do take fewer heat units to open generally smaller bolls, the length of the season with uplands or Acalas is largely a function of management, said Hutmacher.

However, there are differences among California uplands in their response to Pix and defoliants. Some are easier to defoliate. "There are definite varietal differences in susceptibility to thrips," Hutmacher added. And some have demonstrated unwelcome inconsistency from year to year.

"The take home message is that not all of these cottons are the same. They cannot be considered as a group" even though they have all been lumped under a "California Uplands" moniker.

Paying attention to those differences - both good and bad - are important to producers.

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