By Brent Murphree, Maricopa, AZ
The projected decrease in planted cotton acres in the Western region of the Cotton Belt is a major concern for producers and leadership in that area, and the industry is making adjustments to manage for the decline.
According to the National Cotton Council (NCC) annual planting intentions survey, planted acres in the West will be down 46 percent, with the largest decrease occurring in Arizona. At a March meeting of the Arizona Cotton Ginners’ Association (ACGA), individual gins reported that their production level would be down between 40 to 60 percent, depending on the localized region reporting, with price being the major reason for low acreage.
The general theme for this year’s ACGA annual meeting in Flagstaff, Ariz., in June will focus on surviving the current market environment.
Ginners will be hit especially hard. While producers may have other planting options, Western gins rely entirely on a cotton crop for viability. Robert “Butch” Gladden, president of the Arizona Cotton Ginners’ Association and manager at Pinal Gin in Stanfield, Ariz., is looking at basic costcutting measures for his ginning operation.
“The first thing we’re going to do is cut back on overtime,” Gladden says. “We’ll also probably only run one crew instead of two.”
Can The Market Recover?
Gladden isn’t that bullish on the market recovering within a short period of time because of the supply of cotton worldwide, but he is optimistic about a slow recovery.
“I think growers in this area will start coming back into the market at 75 to 80 cents,” he says. In the meantime, some of his producers are investing in equipment that they believe will help cut their costs. Gladden expects more round modules to be hitting his gin yard this year, cutting manpower costs in his farmers’ operations.
In California, price isn’t the only consideration. Water has been a major factor in planted acres for several years as drought continues in the watershed that feeds the San Joaquin Valley. The NCC has projected a 40 percent decrease in upland plantings and a 12 percent increase in Pima cotton.
Water Shortages Persist
Russell Patterson, gin manager at Buttonwillow Ginning Company, in Buttonwillow, Calif., says that the Buena Vista Water Storage District that supplies runoff from the Southern Sierra Nevada mountains has not issued a water allotment for this year.
“Most of our growers have deep wells,” says Peterson. “In the north part of the district where there are no wells, the ground is fallow for lack of water.” With little or no water and low prices, the decline of acreage in Patterson’s area will be roughly 50 percent, which directly affects the viability of the ginning operation.
“Our fixed costs remain the same,” he says, “and it doesn’t make economic sense to maintain the operation if those costs are not covered.” Patterson’s gin is strictly a roller ginned operation. The mix is about 70 percent Pima cotton, and the balance is upland Acala. While the producer does receive premiums for roller ginned Acala, and Pima prices are good, without additional volume the gin is looking to make some tough business decisions.
In New Mexico, most of the loss in upland acreage, down about eight percent, has shifted to long-staple cotton. And, while water issues and low prices affect their planting decisions, cotton producers continue to look to advancing technology and water efficiency improvements to help them during lean years.
Brent Murphree is the Cotton Board’s Regional Communication Manager for the West. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.