• By Dennis O’Brien •
Cotton growers in Texas face unpredictable rainfall, limited water for irrigation and fluctuating prices for the Upland cotton they produce. With such problems becoming more pronounced each year, they might want to consider new options such as Pima cotton production, according to scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service.
Upland cotton is used in a wide variety of products, and growers in the Texas High Plains have been producing it for years because it is well suited to the region’s hot, dry climate. But there is increasing interest in producing Pima cotton because it is higher quality and fetches prices up to 50% higher. Pima cotton, when irrigated, grows well in El Paso, Texas, and parts of Arizona, California and New Mexico.
Key Factors To Consider
Important questions for Texas producers are how well Pima cotton would perform with the limited water available and under a climate with a shorter growing season. About 40% of the cotton produced in the Texas High Plains is irrigated. That water typically comes from the Ogallala Aquifer, which is not accessible to many growers and is being depleted.
ARS researchers compared key qualities of Pima and Upland cotton produced for two years under four irrigation levels in test plots in Lubbock, Texas. They grew two Pima lines and two Upland varieties at four irrigation levels: full irrigation, at 50% and 25% of that level, and in plots watered only by rainfall. They then evaluated the cotton for its lint quality, yield and other important traits.
The study was led by Travis W. Witt, an ARS agronomist in El Reno, Oklahoma. His colleagues included ARS researchers Mauricio Ulloa and Robert C. Schwartz, who are based in Lubbock and Bushland, Texas, respectively; and Glen L. Ritchie, who is with Texas Tech University in Lubbock.
The researchers found the Upland cotton produced higher yields, but the Pima cotton produced better fiber quality over both years at all irrigation levels. In plots with enough water for irrigation, the Upland cotton was more profitable.But in plots with reduced irrigation, the quality of the Upland cotton was degraded to a point where it would have to be sold at discounted prices. So in some instances, the Pima cotton was more profitable under reduced irrigation levels.
“The results show that Upland cotton responds to irrigation; if you can irrigate, it is probably the best choice,” Witt says. “But if water is in short supply and you can’t irrigate, Pima might be the best option with adapted varieties for specific regions. The findings could also apply to areas beyond the Texas High Plains where water is scarce.”
To view the recently published results in “Field Crops Research,” go to https://bit.ly/2xVYTMu.
Dennis O’Brien is a public affairs specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service.