With harvest now in full swing, cotton yields are approaching four bales to the acre, bringing smiles to the faces of producers in the San Joaquin Valley.
California’s planted acreage of cotton this year is projected to be about 366,000 acres, down from last year’s figure of 454,000 acres, but still up considerably from the 190,000 acres planted in 2009. The crop, which up until a few years ago topped one million acres on a consistent basis, has evolved to become a rotation crop, following other row crops such as tomatoes, onions or garlic.
Cotton has benefited from excellent growing conditions and a fall harvest period void of destructive rain events so far, according to producers throughout the state’s Cotton Belt, which ranges from Kern County northward to Merced.
“Weather during the growing season has been optimal,” says producer Brian Watte of Tulare County. “It was cooler during the growing season, so there was no heat to knock off fruit. Then the extra heat at the end helped the crop finish a little sooner than normal.”
Early Harvest Helped
Watte started harvest about one week earlier than usual. Disease and pest pressure was very minimal this year, he says.
Like many farmers, Watte plants cotton as a rotation crop. Prices, while still good, have dropped from last year’s returns and, as a result, Watte says he will plant fewer acres of cotton in 2013. Instead, he will shift more of the farm’s acreage to black-eyed beans and corn, which are bringing higher returns.
Farther north, Merced County diversified producer Pat Borelli also expressed satisfaction over the quality of this year’s cotton crop. He planted the crop on the same ground that had cotton in 2011 and Borelli says this year’s cotton looks better.
“This has been a good year for us. We had enough water, so we didn’t have that worry to contend with,” he says. “The quality should be good. Hopefully, the weather holds.”
Earl Williams, president and CEO of the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations, says the early reports from this year’s harvest indicate strong yields, but not necessarily record yields.
“Fruit retention is some of the highest levels that we have seen, so overall expectations are good, and the early harvest results are proving out,” he says. “We will have first picking through October and into November.”
Jarral Neeper, president of the Bakersfield-based grower cooperative Calcot, says hot weather during the growing season “set some guys back and probably took the opportunity for a record yield off the table, but overall from a production perspective, the growers couldn’t really ask for a much better year. It wasn’t perfect, but it certainly was above average.”
While farmers were blessed with favorable growing conditions, the same cannot be said for marketing opportunities, Neeper says, citing the very large carryover of world cotton inventory, which is projected to increase by 10 million bales to 79 million bales this year.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture report forecast global stocks for 2012-13 at a record level for the second consecutive year, causing prices to plummet. USDA forecast the season average farm price down to 68 cents per pound. The report estimated overall U.S. cotton production at 17.3 million 480-pound bales, up 11 percent from last year.
Steve Adler is associate editor of Ag Alert at the California Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.