The novelty has worn off the hybrid San Joaquin Valley cotton called Hazera.
When it came upon the scene about four years ago, it was one of the most talked about cottons ever grown commercially in the valley. It was given the moniker of super cotton for its hybrid vigor and remarkably high yields under very adverse growing conditions It would not only grow where conventional cottons would falter, it would pack picker baskets. That took the sting off the seed price of $6 per pound.
It also was a cotton that also shook up the marketplace. It was classified as a Pima and went into the Pima loan, but lint strength was considerable inferior to conventional Pimas. There were concerns that mills would buy Hazera thinking they were buying Pimas and Hazera would somehow jeopardize a growing world market for California Pima. That did not happen because the quantity was not that large and merchants were careful to let mills know they were buying Hazera and not S-7 or some other conventional Pima variety.
With the novelty gone, Hazera is in the mainstream. It will likely never command huge acreages, but it will always deserve attention.
“The reason it deserves attention is its high yield, performance and ability to produce under difficult conditions,” says University of California Extension Cotton Specialist Bob Hutmacher, who said Fresno County Farm Advisor Dan Munk and former Kings County Farm Advisor Bruce Roberts “made the right call three years ago when they included HA195 in UC testing. It's hard to ignore Hazera when it beat other Pima varieties by 400 to 500 pounds (lint per acre) across six locations from Kern to Merced.”
“It's been a long known fact that indeterminate varieties do well on marginal ground,” said Munk. HA195 is the Hazera variety most widely planted.
“I really do think we need to have an emphasis to continue looking at varieties that grow well under difficult conditions so growers can keep ground in production that otherwise wouldn't make it. Growers need alternatives and HA195 is a real good fit.”
Many growers, Munk says, are surprised at the vigor of HA195 and initially may not manage it properly with plant growth regulators nor planning irrigations far enough apart.
“The plant uses as much water as other varieties, but it handles stress quite well so farmers can save water and costs by managing this trait effectively from mid to late season,” Munk says.
“Yield data shows Hazera has done extremely well under a range of conditions,” Hutmacher says, “and I'm looking forward to seeing what Hazera's new varieties can accomplish. I hope they can continue to notch up the quality.”
Ernie Schroeder Jr., CEO of Jess Smith & Sons Cotton in Bakersfield, Calif., says his company has marketed a significant amount of HA195 for growers.
“It's been very easy to sell and we get a respectable price for it.”
Last year there were 10,000 acres in the valley. This year the acreage is expected to double. As the acreage increases, more growers are getting a look at HA195.
“I recommend it and say to other growers it's worth trying to see how it works for them,” says Daniel Burns of San Juan Ranching Co. at Dos Palos, Calif., who grew 200 acres of Hazera HA195 for a second year on his heavier, saltier soil near Firebaugh and plans to grow it there again this year.
“For some reason the seed just seems to jump out of the ground there,” he says. “I don't think you'll gain anything by putting it on your best ground — it's adapted to the saltier, heavier ground.”
However, Burns plans to grow an additional 60 acres of HA195 on lighter soil near Dos Palos where it's a lighter loam to see what happens.
Last season Burns turned to the Hazera Seed Co. cotton to make up for a loss.
Planted May 28
Late last May he was forced into plowing under a 10-acre field of chili peppers. Burns did not want to leave the ground idle so he gambled on the cotton hybrid. He planted the cotton on May 28 and harvested it on Nov. 15 and made two bales per acre.
Kern County, Calif., producer Alan Weidenbach grows cotton between Wasco and Bakersfield and planted HA195 on the recommendation of a friend.
“He suggested I grow some and I liked the results,” Weidenbach says. “It's very forgiving to grow.”
Fresno County cotton farmer Jeff Schmiederer has grown HA195 for two years near Mendota. The first year he grew 150 acres. It did real well on soil with a high water table and high salinity. He increased his acreage to 340 acres this past year.
Picked before rain
“I got 3.75 bales (to the acre) and sold it for an average price of $1.12 because I picked before it got rained on,” Schmiederer says. Many valley Pima growers were hit with discounts in 2004 for Pima damaged by the October and November rain.
Kings County, Calif., cotton grower Ted Sheely farms in the Lemoore/Stratford area is concerned about Hazera's quality, but says HA195 is a good fit on the toughest ground he farms.
“People are always looking for a more economical Pima so there's a market to sell Hazera.”
If acreage grew so large there was a carryover of Hazera hybrids, “that would make it difficult to market.”
Sheely grows test plots of new Hazera varieties and he is looking forward to improved hybrid cotton fiber quality. It's important for Hazera to develop varieties with a more competitive fiber package to improve competition against Pima standards, Sheely says.
While Burns last year's price on his full season HA 195 was only five cents off the Pima price. For that reason, he says, Hazera will not replace all the Pima he produces, but he'll continue watching Hazera's development of new hybrids, which address quality issues.
Growers say HA195 produces better quality cotton than Acala varieties, but still falls short of Pima. To resolve this, work is under way on improved seed lines.
“We have some new hybrids with improved lint quality in trials and tests,” Hazera plant breeder Alejandro Szechtman says. He hopes to have some new releases in two to three years.
“Hybrid cotton is a revolutionary approach in the cotton world and as with any other revolution, it takes time to get established,” Szechtman says.
“We are committed to providing an innovative hybrid cotton technology to California's cotton growers,” said hybrid cotton project manager Meir Gadisman.