It’s a busy time in the San Joaquin Valley and other cotton-growing regions, as farmers work to wrap up harvest before Mother Nature begins arriving soon with wet fall and winter weather.
Cotton producers have been moving equipment in and out of fields quickly to harvest as many acres as possible. But farmers such as J.P. Favier of Merced County say the dew that settles in fields early in the morning and late in the evening brings harvest to a halt until the fields dry.
“This definitely slows things down for us,” he says. “Right now we are picking from late in the morning, after the cotton is dry, until as late as 11:30 p.m. when the dew sets in. This affects harvest every year and limits the amount of time we are able to harvest.”
Farmers feel pressure to finish harvest before the onset of rain, but Favier reported increased yields so far.
“Yield-wise, we’re doing pretty well,” he says. “In the last two seasons, we received late rains and, as a result, the yields haven’t been as good, but so far we’re doing better.
“Yields might also be improved due to reduced insect pressure; we didn’t have as much of a problem with lygus this year.”
Crop Overcame Late Start
Earl Williams, president of the California Cotton Growers and Ginners Association in Fresno, says the state’s cotton crop – 273,500 acres of Pima and 181,000 acres of upland – got off to a late start due to early season rains. Planting lagged about two weeks behind, but the cotton crop caught up after gaining heat units during the summer.
Many farmers opted to plant more cotton this season, Williams says, increasing the crop by 150,000 acres from what was planted in 2010.
“Certainly, a lot of people changed their minds after quitting the cotton business and came back to cotton because of the price, so that was a driving factor,” he says. “We had expanded acreage among cotton growers who had stayed in the business, and we had people that came into the business that had never grown cotton before.”
Other factors included an adequate water supply and dairy farmers looking for something to grow other than feed crops, Williams says.
The substantial increase in cotton acreage raised the question of whether the cotton business has enough infrastructure to support such a change.
“The (cotton) seed prices remained good enough to keep a lot of the gins in business, so we saved the infrastructure,” Williams adds. “We’ll just get back to the old days when we were ginning seven days a week, 24 hours a day.”
The uninterrupted harvest season and favorable weather leave time for farmers to work with the cotton harvesting equipment they have, he says.
“I hope this weather holds up for another week or two, and by then we’ll certainly be over the hump,” Williams says.
Attractive Prices For Cotton
Riverside County producer Grant Chaffin says he remains about three weeks away from harvest of his upland cotton crop. Like many other farmers, Chaffin increased the amount of cotton he planted to take advantage of higher prices. Last year, the price for Pima hit $3 a pound. Currently, Pima has been selling for between $1.50 and $1.75 per pound, and the range for upland has been $1 to $1.25 a pound.
“We planted more cotton this year and, given the futures market in cotton, right now there is an opportunity to lock in some pretty good pricing for the December 2012 crop and the December 2013 crop,” Chaffin says. “I would expect next year we’re probably going to be up 10 percent on our cotton acreage.”
More than 90 percent of California cotton is exported. Williams identified the primary export markets for cotton as China, India and Mexico.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service on Oct. 20 forecast upland cotton production in California at 560,000 bales, 47 percent more than last year. The forecast yield of 1,485 pounds per acre is two pounds more than 2010.
USDA forecast Pima cotton production at 685,000 bales, 48 percent above the previous year, with yields up 32 pounds to 1,269 pounds per acre.
Christine Souza of the California Farm Bureau Federation wrote this story. For additional information, contact her at email@example.com.