Traversing 500 miles by car over three consecutive days in early October in Arizona allowed Western Farm Press to gain the pulse of Arizona cotton growers on their 2016 crop status and acreage intentions for next year.
Good news about China’s shrinking cotton inventories and new cotton technology has some cotton growers in an upbeat mood. Grower interviews suggest their 2017 cotton acreage could increase from 20 to 25 percent. Helping push the increase could be growers switching from alfalfa to cotton since alfalfa prices are low.
This year, Arizona cotton acres kissed near the 130,000 acre spot this year (about 115,000 Upland and 14,000 Pima), up from a combined 99,000 acres total several years ago.
Deltapine’s show and tell
This fall’s first Arizona cotton field was Monsanto-Deltapine’s event near Coolidge hosted by the England family’s Sierra Farming Partnership. About 300 cotton aficionados taxied along the cotton runway in tractor-pulled trailers and learned about Deltapine varieties – commercial and experimental varieties.
Deltapine’s six-year old bulldog variety DP 1044 B2RF, developed through Monsanto’s Arizona breeding program, remains atop the varietal chart as the No. 1 planted variety in the state.
“For Arizona, DP 1044 B2RF is a great one,” said Dave Albers, Monsanto’s product development manager for cotton germplasm. Albers touted DP 1612 B2XF as a good option for planting cotton after grain, or in a late-planting situation. He also noted joint strides the company has made to improve yield and quality.
“One of the things our breeding group has done so well over the last few years has been improving fruit quality and fruit yield at the same time. It’s not always easy thing to do,” Albers said.
Field day host Donny England and his family grew about 3,500 acres of cotton this year.
“This year’s growing season started out rough due to cold weather. The summer weather was favorable with warm days and cooler nights. A favorable July made up for a lot of lost time.”
England hopes for about 2,000 pounds or more of fiber on the farm where the event was held.
He’s anxious for higher lint prices. “I like it when it has a one in front of it,” England laughed. “I sure would like 80 (cents) plus.”
Ron and Robert Rayner of A-Tumbling-T Ranches at Goodyear have about 800 Upland acres double-cropped after wheat.
“Right now the crop looks very good although it’s not done yet,” Ron Rayner said. “It looks good and on time, but the sight of it on the first of August might give you heart failure (due to the late planting after wheat). We’ve done this crop rotation long enough to know the cotton comes along and does well.”
He says double cropping with cotton takes some of the weather danger out of the crop since the plant progressives quickly after the danger of high nighttime temperatures have passed. Most of the Rayners’ commercial cotton is DP 1044 B2RF which Ron calls “bulletproof” that finishes off early.
The Rayners hope for 3 to 3.5 bales per acre on the home farm with good quality lint. They hope to increase cotton acreage next year.
Ron is always on the lookout for herbicide resistant palmer amaranth which has been found in the area so he watches his fields like a hawk.
“If we see a weed anywhere that has been sprayed with Roundup we will pull the weed by hand. There are very few and we want to keep it that way,” says Rayner.
Ron is the president of Farmer’s Gin in nearby Buckeye. The growers tell him they plan to increase acreage about 20 percent next year.
Safford-area field day
In Safford located in Graham County in southeastern Arizona, University of Arizona (UA) state cotton specialist Randy Norton led several dozen growers through field trials at the Safford Agricultural Center.
The Safford Valley is about 3,000 feet above sea level, shadowed by Mt. Graham, and is home to the majority of Pima cotton grown in the state.
Local cotton grower Dennis Palmer of VIP Farms at nearby Thatcher, Western Farm Press’ 2016 High Cotton Award winner, said 2016 has been a pretty good year for growing cotton.
“I think our crop is ‘average to good.’ It’s always hard to tell until you actually pick it,” Palmer noted.
This year, Dennis and his son Matt have 3,600 acres of cotton, including about 2,200 acres of Pima and 1,200 acres of Upland.
Palmer said last year’s cotton crop was damaged by hail storms but knock on wood their fields had escaped the frozen ice so far this year. However, just three days later after the field day a major hail storm blanketed the Safford Valley. The Palmers lost about a third of their crop.
During the tour, Palmer called low cotton prices the biggest challenge he faces.
“The biggest and hardest challenge we face is just trying to stay solvent in business. The only way we can make that up (lower prices) is in higher yields, plus better quality and grades.”
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In an interview, the UA’s Norton was upbeat about cotton’s future, pointing to technological strides which continue to keep cotton a viable cropping option.
“Since we’ve been using Bt cotton, we’ve nearly eliminated the need for spraying for worms. We have IGRs for controlling aphids and whiteflies, plus soft chemistry for lygus control. We have more predators taking care of many insects. Before, we were wiping them out spraying all the time.”
Norton also praised seed companies for tremendous gains in cotton germplasm.
“The seed companies have continued to raise the bar in terms of performance. They’ve done a good job.”
Norton also believes Arizona cotton acreage will increase next year, based on grower input.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re 20-25 percent higher next year. Cotton’s major competitor in Arizona is alfalfa and the alfalfa market is not that great.”
Bayer CropScience field day
The last stop on the cotton field day tour was Bayer CropScience’s event at Coolidge. Bayer’s Kenny Melton led tours of Bayer variety plots and showcased the company’s cotton lines.
All ears and sitting on the tram’s front row was Yuma cotton grower Mike Harvey of Harvey Farms. This year he has about 1,200 acres of Bayer’s Stoneville and FiberMax varieties, and Deltapine and NexGen varieties.
He’s hoping for 2.5 to 2 ¾ bales per acre despite level two heat stress in July.
“We had a little heat damage, but overall we’re doing okay,” said Harvey.
Turning to California, the state’s total cotton acreage recovered somewhat in 2016 after a dismal 2015 where acreage fell to its lowest level since the Great Depression. The harvest of California’s 2016 crop was well under way by early October with the short-staple Upland varieties baled first.
About 70 percent of California’s 2016 crop is extra-long staple (ELS) Pima varieties. Total cotton acreage this year is more than 218,000 acres. Over 152,000 is Pima.
Kings County once again has the largest acreage devoted to cotton - more than 83,000. Almost 90 percent is Pima. Growers in neighboring Tulare County devoted 78 percent of their 13,610 cotton acres to Upland varieties.
Kings County cotton grower Geoff Toledo planted 100 percent Upland Acala. Last year he planted the PhytoGen Acala PHY 764 WRF for seed. This year he devoted 900 acres to the variety, which he expects will yield up to five bales per acre in some fields. Last year he averaged 4.4 bales on 160 acres.
“PHY 764 WRF is very adaptable to all soil types,” says Toledo, who farms in areas with a mix of heavy clay and sandy loam soils.
Toledo has grown cotton for 22 years, partnering with his father Jack and brother John, farming ground in the Hanford and Waukena areas of Kings and Tulare counties.
“His cotton looks excellent,” said Harry Peck, PhytoGen cotton representative in the south San Joaquin Valley (SJV). He says PHY 764 WRF variety will replace PhytoGen’s 725 RF and 755 WRF Acala varieties.
PhytoGen has introduced two new Pima varieties: PHY 841 RF and PHY 881 RF. Tulare farmer Greg Watte is growing the varieties this year and believes it will yield well. Watte says his region can produce more than three bales of Pima per acre.
Pest pressure has been light for Watte this year, spraying once for whitefly and aphid.
“This year was very clean,” he said.