Pima planting date, population keys to success

Pima cotton is expected to make a significant rebound next season in the San Joaquin Valley. This year's crop is trading in that magical $1 range and 90-cent contracts are floating about for 2001 - some even reaching to near the 95-cent level.

Domestic and world demand is now strong for American Pima, according to Matt Laughlin, vice president of the Supima Association of America which reports despite an anticipated cut of almost 40 percent in production this year, Pima demand is expected to finish near last year's record level of 584,000 bales.

Coupled with that is the likelihood that government loan deficiency or "pop" support payments for Acala/Upland cottons will not reach remotely close to the 22-cent per pound maximum of the year just past. That will put Pima on a more equal footing with upland since yields are approximately the same. This year California non-Pima yield are projected to average 1,280 pounds while Pima is predicted to yield 1,200 pounds.

A strong government economic underpinning for upland last season was largely responsible for Pima acreage plummeting from 240,000 in California in 1999 to 144,000 this season.

With an anticipated jump in 2001 acreage, the ever-important planting date for the Extra Long Staple plant will play pivotal role in what that acreage may be.

Fresno County University of California cotton farm advisor Dan Munk said Pima can be from seven to as many as 21 days later to maturity compared to other cottons, and planting date and plant density can have a significant impact on yields.

Pima must be in early to maximize its yield potential, but that also increases chilling injury risks. However, Munk told producers at the recent Cotton Field Day at the West Side Research and Extension Center that Pima has more cold hardiness than uplands.

"In 1999 we had a yield of 1,950 pounds - four bales - with an April 14 planting date. Fifteen days later with an April 29 planting date, we lost 400 pounds of lint per acre," he said. It dropped even more dramatically with a May 14 planting date. "There is a fairly narrow window for Pima planting," said Munk as he comes to the close of a three-year planting date/plant density study.

Last season's growing conditions gave growers good yield potential in contrast to 1998 when early season conditions were poor.

That year an April 14 planting date out yielded a March 30 planting date by 150 pounds per acre. However, average yields were down almost 300 pounds that season.

While growing conditions in the two seasons were dramatically different, plant populations of 20,000 to 40,000 plants per acre produced optimum yields both years.

The highest yields last season came in April 14 planted cotton within that population range. When it went from 40,000 to 60,000 plants per acre, the yield dropped off almost 200 pounds with the same planting date.

One reason for the dramatic yield reduction was lower fruit retention in the bottom five fruiting branches for later planted and higher plant populations.

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