Producers in the West have looked continuously to improve the profitability of their cotton crop through the development of varieties that are specially adapted to the Western environment.
Sometimes this search has resulted in finding specialized varieties, such as Pima cotton, the development of which began as a stronger, longer fiber for use in automobile tires and today has evolved into use in the high-end textile market.
It can be argued that all Western cotton is a specialized niche because it makes up less than 10 percent of the country’s average volume of cotton. Growing techniques in the West are also vastly different from other parts of the Belt.
Many producers in the region look to further enhance their edge in the market by growing varieties that are more finely tuned to the warm, dry environment or by using technology that helps give them the edge.
New Mexico, Arizona and California have all had state breeding programs that sought to refine the product to the specific region. However, New Mexico is the only state in the West that currently has a university-managed cotton breeding program.
Glandless Seed Research
Dr. Jinfa Zhang, a plant breeder at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, N.M., is working to develop a cotton line with glandless seed that can be used in food production in addition to providing Western quality lint.
The New Mexico Cotton Task Force has helped influence area farmers and researchers to collaborate and develop New Mexico’s Acala 1517 “White Sands Cotton” brand with the intent to market it overseas. The longer staple upland variety has an excellent yield and superior spinning qualities.
In the Mesilla Valley of New Mexico, Ramon “Dosi” Alvarez grows a number of varieties on his organic farming operation – a conventional Pima, DP 340; a Sea Island cotton developed at New Mexico State University; and Acala 1517. He also grows several of the colored cottons developed by breeder Sally Fox.
While his operation is a niche in the New Mexico cotton environment, he is very involved in the state’s effort to further refine its cotton options.
Need For Arizona Varieties
Arizona has always sought to improve yields in the warmest climate in the Cotton Belt. While many of the mainline seed company varieties were developed in Arizona, producers such as Paul “Paco” Ollerton would like to see more Arizona-specific cottons.
“We made some great inroads,” says Ollerton of the dormant Arizona Cotton Growers Association breeding program. He would like to see varieties developed in Arizona to suit the hot, dry climate.
Pima cotton is the most successful non-conventional variety developed in Arizona. Unfortunately for Arizona though, Pima was discovered to be better suited for the San Joaquin Valley (SJV) of California.
In the late 1990s, California changed its cotton varieties law, which protected SJV Acala cotton quality, to allow Pima cotton to be grown. The change in the law also allowed for a more expansive look at cotton variety production. Hybrid Hazera cotton, an Israeli cross between Pima and upland cottons, has also been a success in the San Joaquin Valley.
Hazera is well suited for some of the tougher cotton ground. It has a high tolerance for water stress, salty or alkali ground and verticillium wilt.
Finding A Niche
Bob Hutmacher, California’s Extension cotton specialist, thinks California’s next niche will be advancing Fusarium wilt and nematode-resistant Pima cottons.
California cotton producer Don Cameron adds, “California growers will be known as three things: Pima growers, roller-ginned Acala growers and seed producers.”
Brent Murphree is the Cotton Board’s Regional Communication Manager for the West. He resides in Maricopa, Ariz.
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