Like the hopped up Ford: Hybrid Pima's ready to roar

“A Cadillac arollin' on the open road
Nothin' will outrun my V8 Ford
The Cadillac doin' about ninety five
She's bumper to bumper, rollin' side by side
The Cadillac pulled up ahead of the Ford
The Ford got hot and wouldn't do no more
It then got cloudy and started to rain
I tooted my horn for a passin' lane
The rainwater blowin' all under my hood
I know that I was doin' my motor good
The motor cooled down the heat went down
And that's when I heard that highway sound
The Cadillac asittin' like a ton of lead
A hundred and ten half a mile ahead
The Cadillac lookin' like it's sittin' still
And I caught Maybellene at the top of the hill”

The legendary hit “Maybellene” undoubtedly resonated through the brains of some old rock and rollers at — of all places — the fifth annual Pima Production Summit.

Chuck Berry's 1950s classic about the Cadillac and hopped up Ford was a telling description used to describe one of the biggest dilemmas ever to face the San Joaquin Valley cotton industry in a 70-year debate of cotton yield vs. lint quality.

The Ford: Hazera HA-195.

The Cadillac: All other San Joaquin Valley Pima cotton varieties.

At least one textile mill, which buys considerable SJV Pima, wanted the Ford parked permanently — in the wrecking yard.

Growers left little doubt that they want to fill the Ford's tank and let the highest yielding cotton ever planted in the San Joaquin Valley bury the speedometer needle. They say the pedal has not come close to the metal even though yields have been more than five bales per acre in small-scale trials.

HA-195, the first hybrid cotton grown commercially in the San Joaquin Valley, averaged a bale more per acre than any the 15 Pima varieties in the San Joaquin Valley Cotton Board (SJVCB) large scale Pima trials last year. In one trial it yielded 866 pounds (1.7 bales) more than S-7, the valley's current Pima standard.

Dominates summit

A large segment of the Pima Production Summit was devoted to HA-195, the talk of ginyards and coffee shops valley wide. It was undoubtedly one reason a large crowd of 160 attended the conference co-sponsored by Western Farm Press, Supima Association of America, University of California and the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association at the Visalia Convention Center, Visalia, Calif.

The cotton is in its second year of SJVCB testing. There were 1,000 acres of HA-195 planted commercially outside of those trials last year by about a dozen growers. This year there are 1,230 acres being grown by 20 growers, according to Meir Gadisman of the Israeli-based Hazera Seed Co.

It is a unique cotton that producers say must be managed differently than conventional Pimas. Its yield potential may be limited only by a lack of experience growing it. It has already exceeded five bales per acre in small-scale trials in good soil.

It fiber properties, specifically strength, however, are clearly inferior to S-7 and well below other newer Pimas winding their way through the SJVCB testing program.

Gary Vessels of Phoenix, Ariz., a veteran Pima cotton buyer for Herman Buehler textile mill in Winterthur, Switzerland, told the summit he cannot use the low quality HA-195 in Buehler's high end yarn products.

“Your have the Cadillac of cottons” now in SJV Pima varieties, he said. HA-195 is “just a hopped up Ford.”

Three men who have grown HA-195 and represent some of the most prominent names in SJV cotton admit this true hybrid cotton cross between Pima and Acala has plenty of faults, but it has something they want in these tough economic times — the potential for phenomenal yields along with the cake icing of low water use and tolerance to stresses, specifically salt.

Drawbacks, but…

Erik Hansen of Hansen Ranches in Corcoran, Calif., has grown HA-195 for two years. It's attractive to aphids, lygus and whitely; very difficult to defoliate; slows in ginning; the seed is too expensive (almost $7 per pound) and the supply so far unreliable and the staple is too low.

However, it has the “most important quality:” high yield potential in the heavy clay loam soils of the Tulare Lake Bottom. It yielded a quarter to seventh-tenths of a bale more than other Pimas in side-by-side trials.

Hansen admitted he has been mostly disappointed in results so far as he works with Gadisman to maximize yield potential and learn how best to manage the hybrid cotton. However, “HA-195 is definitely promising” under some of Hansen's farming conditions.

Meyers Farms, Firebaugh, Calif., tried HA-195 to test its water savings potential on the West Side of the valley where water has become a scarce resource due to cutbacks in federal water deliveries.

However, Meyers pest control adviser and farm manager Dave Sieperda acknowledged excellent yields with a savings of four inches of water. However, he added “I am not sure that is the right way to look at this cotton because of its phenomenal yield potential.”

The hybrid cotton jumps out of the ground, and Pix management is critical to maximize yield potential.

“It is amazing the yield potential. We had fruiting branches with five and six bolls on them,” said Sieperda.

It is a large plant and that is what makes it attractive to insects. Dr. Shane Ball, University of California cotton specialist who directs the SJVCB testing program, said it was a foot taller all season long than other Pimas.

Water savings

Rich Neuenschwander of Woolf Enterprises, Huron, Calif., said water savings is the No. 1 reason he wants to see HA-195 succeed.

“We are now fallowing ground because we do not have the water to grow crops,” he said. Neuenschwander said HA-195 offers a water savings of six to 12 inches per acre per year over conventional Pimas.

“That means for every two acres of HA-195 planted, we gain enough water for one more acre of cotton that we otherwise could not grow with our limited water availability. That is significant as we face the reality of water becoming a finite resource,” said the Woolf Enterprises farm manager.

And, HA-195 yields of three bales exceeded other Pimas at Woolf. “It is a loose lint boll, and we had two rains on it last year. I think we lost a quarter of a bale because of the rain,” he added.

There were more questions raised than answers given at the Pima Summit about hybrid cottons. However, there's strong indication it's a cotton that has incredibly high yield potential in both ideal and poor growing or low water availability and high salt soil conditions.

It is not easy to manage because of its vigor and is very expensive to plant.

And as loud as mills and merchants may complain about its low quality, it is not likely to go away. The cotton board must at some time in the near future decided if it wants to release it as an approved Pima cotton or an Acala cotton or simply say no on both counts.

However, with the valley now open to all cottons, growers can continue to grow it. Marketing would then be the biggest question, if it is not designated an “approved” Acala or Pima variety.

Right now it is going into the Pima loan where growers can receive about 80 cents per pound for it.

e-mail: [email protected]

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