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CANCELED: UCCE field day to breathe new life into California’s ‘king cotton’

jeff mitchell

University of California’s Jeff Mitchell compares properties of soil from a field with 20 years of cover crops and no till (left) to soil from a conventionally tilled field without cover crops — photo by Vicky Boyd

The cotton field day scheduled for March 26 has been cancelled.  

Farmers and other agriculture professionals interested in cotton are invited to a field day from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., March 26, to find ways to revitalize the California cotton industry.

The meeting will be at Teixeira & Sons Farm, 11323 Erreca Road, Dos Palos. For free registration, email hello@fibershed.com or call 559-303-9689. Lunch is included.

There was a time when cotton was king in California. Acreage reached a peak in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with more than 1.5 million acres in the Central Valley planted to cotton. The crop was California’s most valuable agricultural commodity.

Due to world market conditions, water limitations, state pesticide regulations, government policies on trade and competition, annual cotton acreage is down to about 300,000 and shrinking.

“Cotton is an expensive crop to grow, but low in value,” said Jeff Mitchell, University of California Cooperative Extension specialist. “High input costs and low commodity prices are a recipe for farm failure,” he said, citing David Montgomery’s book “Growing a Revolution – Bringing our Soil Back to Life.”

Mitchell and his field day partners believe using sustainable cotton production methods will cut the input costs and open the door to fiber and textile buyers who want a product grown in a way that supports soil health, worker health and human health.

“The health of the whole system is increasingly important,” Mitchell said.

Traditional cotton production practices lend themselves to improvement. In the past, cotton was grown with open, exposed soil between the plants and applications of pesticides that inhibited soil biodiversity. A new approach would involve cover crops, surface residues and reduced tillage.

“The meeting will be a straight forward sharing of new information and ideas aimed at helping farmers avoid obsolescence and make their crops become more attractive to buyers,” Mitchell said.