Long-awaited cotton planting seed shift begins

The long anticipated shift in cotton planting seed production in the West is under way.

The world's largest cotton planting seed company, Delta and Pine Land Co. has long wanted to produce more cotton planting seed in the San Joaquin Valley. However, the Mississippi-based company had been rebuffed by the valley's one-variety law.

Deltapine in the past requested that it be allowed to produce non-approved cottons in the past for seed in the valley under strict guidelines to prevent any contamination with Acala cottons, but was rejected.

However, when the valley was opened up to all varieties three years ago, that also opened the door for Deltapine to produce non-Acala planting seed in the valley for its U.S. and world customers. It also opened up the valley to all other seed companies like Stoneville and Agripro.

This season Deltapine contracted for 15,000 acres of certified seed production in the San Joaquin and that is projected to grow to 50,000 acres next season, according to Mark Pearson, Deltapine's new seed production and quality assurance manager for the valley. That would double the seed production in the valley in one year.

That is a significant for several reasons. One is that producing cotton for seed represents $50 per acre in additional income for contracted producers and $20 per ton additional income for seed-saving cotton. That added income for SJV, however, may come at the expense of producers and gins in Arizona where a large portion of the state's acreage is devoted to seed production.

More than 82,000 of Arizona's 286,000 acres of cotton were registered for certification this season. That is almost double the acreage (44,000) put into certification in California this season. California's total included both upland and Pima. California producers planted about 920,000 acres of cotton this season with 144,00 of that Pima. Arizona's certified seed acreage is all upland varieties.

All of the Acala cotton seeded in the valley is valley-grown seed. A large portion of the Acala seed acreage is exported.

Combined, the 2000 acreage in California and Arizona put into certification represents enough seed to plant more than 20 million acres of cotton.

Arizona in recent years has become a major source of planting seed for not only the U.S. Cotton Belt, but the world as well. Arizona-grown seed, because it is harvested in warm, dry conditions, is consistently high quality and often sought-after by producers elsewhere.

Allan Simons, executive vice president of the Arizona Crop Improvement Association, is not surprised by the apparent shift. "We have been kind of expecting it to happen. However, we have not been officially notified of any major shift.

"If it is true and the seed production shifts to the San Joaquin Valley, it could be a major blow to not only our association but to the entire Arizona cotton industry. Some years that extra income for producing seed was the difference between a profit and a loss for some growers," said Simons.

The San Joaquin Valley is considered one of the best locations in the U.S. to produce high quality cotton planting seed. Like Arizona, the dry harvest season is ideal for seed production.

And, there are those who believe the San Joaquin Valley can produce seed superior to that from Arizona. "The cooler summer nights here in the San Joaquin provide superior seed quality," Pearson said.

This year Deltapine and Sure Grow seed produced in the San Joaquin in 1999 was sold in the Sacramento Valley.

"A lot of growers commented on the improved seed vigor from San Joaquin Valley seed this year," said Doug Munier, Northern California University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor for cotton.

"So far our seed fields look good this season," said Pearson. "That mid-October rain did not seem to hurt any of our seed production.

"We are still doing the bulk of our seed production in Arizona, but everyone is anticipating it will shift to the San Joaquin," he said. "We have a good list of growers who want to grow seed for us.

Simons conjectured that the San Joaquin would be more desirable for seed production because of the isolation it affords to produce the new transgenic cottons.

"The vast majority of Arizona cotton is transgenic and it is difficult to get the isolation necessary in seed production. It would seem to me it would be easier to get that isolation in the San Joaquin," he said.

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