Tough time at hand for CPCSD

California Planting Cotton Seed Distributors (CPCSD), the oldest seed supplier of San Joaquin Valley cotton planting seed, is dropping all but a handful of its newest varieties in an effort to stay in business.

Bill Van Skike, CPCSD president, said acreage has fallen by 50 percent since 1997 and sales have dropped dramatically with it.

At its annual grower meetings prior to planting this year’s crop, Van Skike said “we did not sell a lot of seed last year” and asked growers to “step up to the plate; talk with your neighbors; talk with your distributors and come home to CPCSD in 2006 so we can be around in the future.

“We know you have choices and we realize you must select what is best for your farm. However, unless the other guy is better, we are asking growers to plant CPCSD seed in 2006 so we can continue a research program that will make San Joaquin Valley cotton shine in the future,” said Van Skike.

CPCSD has marketed SJV cotton seed for more than 70 years and had the ball game pretty well to itself until 1978 when the one-variety law was changed and the valley was opened up to all commercial companies when USDA abandoned its Acala breeding program. Since then competition has been keen in a relatively small cotton market with a dwindling cotton acreage.

Today there are three major seed companies in the valley; Phytogen Seed Co., a partnership between Dow AgroSciences and J.G. Boswell Co., whose varieties accounted for about 57 percent of California’s upland cotton acreage; CPCSD with 34 percent of the upland acreage and Delta and Pine Land Co. with about 6 percent. Phytogen dominated the Pima market with 69 percent of the SJV Pima ’05 acreage followed by Deltapine with about 14 percent. CPCSD did not have a ranked proprietary Pima.

Deltapine is an 80-year-old cotton seed company that is publicly owned and Phytogen is taking its variety development program beltwide with the deep pockets of Dow AgroSciences. These companies, said Van Skike, had greater financial resources than CPCSD, which basically develops varieties only for the San Joaquin Valley. A 15-member grower board directs CPCSD's program. It is the only grower-governed seed company of the three operating in the valley.

‘Financial storm’

“We cannot survive a financial storm for more than five years,” said Van Skike. “It is a tough world out there for you as growers and for us as a seed company. We can no longer keep a warehouse full of seed.”

In his opening remarks to growers, he indicated that five years may be at hand when he said CPCSD is “facing drastic changes.”

One of those is the elimination of a wide array of varieties from its portfolio after 2006. This includes Riata RR, Sierra RR, non-transgenic Ultima varieties, non-transgenic Hammer, Summit and the two Nem-X varieties and others.

Van Skike said CPCSD has commercial supplies of most of its older varieties for 2006, but there will be no seed production of the older varieties this season for future plantings. “In the future if it does not sell, we will drop it.” He said there will be no more CPCSD variety “niche” markets.

Van Skike is not asking growers to plant CPCSD varieties inferior to other commercial offerings. “We have varieties now that can compete effectively with (Phytogen) 72. We now have the breeding program depth that can compete. A new breeding platform,” he said, "will provide high yielding, high quality varieties in the future."

The three key varieties for 2006, according to vice president of sales John Palmer, will an Acala, Fiesta RR and Daytona RF and Cobalt, a Pima. Fiesta and Cobalt are expected to win San Joaquin Valley Cotton Board Approval this spring.

Daytona is a Roundup Flex variety eligible for SJVCB release in 2007 for planting next season. However, there will be enough seed for only about 15,000 acres this season.

Ultima RF also will be marketed this year, but there is only enough seed for about 3,000 acres. Even though Ultima is approved by the cotton board, the transgenic Ultima EF will not be eligible until 2008 since a transgenic variety is considered a new variety and must be tested for three years before officially released.

Seed supplies for Fiesta RR are plentiful.

Insert RF gene

CPCSD breeders have inserted the RF gene into the non-Acala Hammer. Its quality is “just below that of SJ-2” and is classified as a California Upland. It will never be an approved variety, but it is sold by Acala-focused CPCSD because it is the highest yielding variety ever tested in cotton board trials. According to the seed distributor, Hammer RF is even higher yielding than non-transgenic Hammer.

The competition for a dwindling acreage has become so fierce, seed companies are selling relatively large quantities of Acala and Pima varieties before they are eligible for release by the SJVCB and this is creating problems.

Although classing may identify it as a high quality Acala, it must be identified by law as an experimental cotton and marketed as a California Upland and presumably sold at a discount compared to approved Acalas. Some marketers, however, have sold these Acala on HVI readings and growers did not take a discount.

“There were a lot of complaints last year that some seed companies did not identify their varieties as non-approved,” said Van Skike. By law non-approved cotton variety bales must be tagged and non-approved status marked on invoices.

“CPCSD has always identified its varieties as experimental if it has not been approved. Other seed companies may not have been doing that,” he said.

The new Roundup Flex technology, which will allow producers to treat cotton with the Roundup herbicide up to seven days prior to harvest, is expected to be a big boost to California producers and seed companies are rushing to get RF varieties on the market. The old RR technology does not allow Roundup sprays after the fourth node or fifth leaf. Irrigation can interfere with timely Roundup sprays under the RR system

No ’06 approvals

“There will be no Roundup Flex approved Acala varieties in California in 2006. There are only two that will be eligible for release in 2007 — Phytogen 715 RF and Daytona RF. All others will not be eligible until 2008 and beyond,” Van Skike pointed out.

Anything Acala that is not approved in 2006 must be marketed as a California Upland, said Van Skike.

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