Cotton comeback in Arizona

Cotton is poised to be the Arizona comeback crop in 2010.

About 185,000 acres of short staple upland cotton are predicted to be planted in the Grand Canyon State this spring, a 21 percent increase or 40,000 acres over last year, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s (NASS) Phoenix, Ariz., Field Office.

Arizona Pima acreage is projected to be 3,000 acres, a 1,300-acre increase from last season.

Nationally, cotton acreage is expected to increase 15 percent to 10.3 million acres, the first increase after three straight years of decline.

About two-thirds of Arizona cotton production is grown in Pinal, Maricopa, and Pima counties in central Arizona. Pinal is Arizona’s largest cotton-producing county with about 66,000 acres planted in 2008.

Pinal County grower Jamie Shaw, owner-operator, J&M Farms, Coolidge, will increase his upland cotton acreage about 40 percent, from 700 acres in 2009 to 1,000 acres this season. His planter started rolling after Easter.

Why plant more cotton?

“Nothing else is worth much,” Shaw said. “Price is the key — alfalfa (price) is not real good, barley is not worth much, and corn is down,” – all crops Shaw grew in 2009. Shaw will farm a total of 1,500 acres this year.

Another reason for Shaw’s increased cotton acreage is a new 300-acre lease. Shaw’s total acreage this year will include 95 acres to test a new Monsanto drought tolerant gene and for seed increase.

“If you look at the projected (cotton) price figures you’re in the mid 60s (per pound),” Shaw said. “I’d like it to be in the 70s.”

Even in the 60-cent range, there is a potential profit for Shaw, but his total crop portfolio pays the bills.

“All my crops need to cash flow – cotton, hay, barley, and corn,” Shaw explained. “The Monsanto research efforts bring in extra cash flow to help offset my overall expenses.”

Rain and cool temperatures during the winter and early spring caused Shaw, for the first time, to treat cotton seed with the Avicta Cotton Complete package in case the weather built up thrips insect populations.

Erin Taylor, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension agent in the tri-county region, believes growers will increase upland acreage from 5 percent to 30 percent per farm.

“I’m happy to see cotton (acreage) coming back up,” Taylor said. “With the prices we’re expecting, I think it’s a great thing.”

In Yuma County in southwestern Arizona, Dwayne Alford, manager of the Yuco Gin in Yuma, predicts 12,000 to 15,000 acres of cotton will be planted this spring. That compares to 10,000 last year.

“With the additional acres this year and our traditional 2.75 to 3-bale average, we’ll expect to increase from 20,000 bales to 35,000 bales plus,” Alford said.

Yuma County growers plant mostly short-season cotton. Extra Long Staple (ELS) Pima, a longer-season type, is generally planted from Feb. 1-15, weather permitting, but the total acreage is small, Alford says. Upland is seeded from late February through early April.

Although cotton can be carried well into November in the desert, it is normally picked in late August and September so fields can be prepared for winter vegetable production.

Eddie Harrison, owner, Harrison Farms, Yuma, grows more than 4,000 acres of winter vegetables in Yuma County’s lower and upper Gila Valley, the Yuma Valley, and in Roll; plus just across the Colorado River in Bard, Calif. (Imperial County).

Harrison’s first harvested vegetable acreage is planted after summer wheat harvest. Later vegetable harvests follow cotton and sudangrass rotations.

Harrison planted 1,100 acres of cotton in 2009. His 400-acre increase this year is tied in part to higher cotton prices and lower wheat prices, plus late rains that forced Harrison to abandon wheat planting intentions for cotton.

“We got near 80 cents a pound on some early cotton contracts,” Harrison said.

Cool, wet weather and hail damaged some of Harrison’s early-planted cotton.

“Mother Nature has not been our best friend this spring,” said Harrison.

Harrison replanted about 200 acres of his 1,500 acres of cotton. Pima cotton ground was replanted with upland since the ELS planting window had passed.

“We try to start planting cotton around mid-February, even if the weather is lousy,” Harrison said. “We can usually bet on getting a warm period during that time.”

Not this year.

“The biggest loss in replanting is the loss of two weeks of cotton growth,” Harrison said. “Historically that would have yielded up to one-quarter to one-half bale more.”

“The seed (in the replanted fields) was just mush. I don’t have a definite answer on why this happened,” Harrison said. “It may have been a combination of factors.”

Father and son Montie and Ryan Lee, Lee Farms, Yuma, grow 3,800 acres of vegetables, cotton, wheat, sudangrass for seed, alfalfa for hay and seed, and black-eyed peas.

The Lees will plant 1,000 acres of mostly upland plus some Pima — 200 more cotton acres than last year. As with Harrison, the Lees banked on warmer weather after the rains and cold. The first cotton was planted about Feb. 20. Fifteen acres were replanted.

“The stand was there, but the root system started to decay,” said Ryan. “It didn’t quite pop through the crust when I watered it back. It sat there for so long in the cold prior to the first rain. It just ran out of strength and life. By the time the heat arrived, the plant had exerted all of its energy.”

In eastern Arizona near Thatcher (Graham County), Dennis Palmer’s crop mix this year will include 2,600 acres of upland cotton, an increase of 200 acres from 2009; plus Durum wheat on 400 acres and 100 acres of alfalfa. Palmer’s additional cotton acreage will be planted on newly acquired rented ground. Cotton is the main crop grown in the Gila River Valley.

“We have figured how to grow cotton, cotton, cotton and still improve our yields,” Palmer said. Late last fall the area faced severe drought. Palmer contemplated fallowing 25 percent to 30 percent of his ground then. Good winter rains and snowpack have improved the water outlook.

“We have been blessed by having good rains and snow over the last few months,” Palmer noted. “We’re very happy to be in this situation. Cotton prices are up so everybody is pretty excited.”

Palmer plans to plant cotton in mid-April, weather permitting.

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TAGS: Cotton
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