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Arizonans celebrate state centennial, cotton industry

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  • Celebrations are ongoing across the state recognizing Arizona’s many achievements during its century-old legacy. Receiving salutes are Arizona’s five C’s – its top major resources - citrus, cattle, climate, copper, and last but not least – cotton.

Whoo hoo! Arizona is 100-years-old!  

Centennial celebrations began Feb. 14 as Arizona achieved its 100-year, centennial status. The Grand Canyon State statehood began in 1912; the last of the 48 contiguous states to join the union.

Celebrations are ongoing across the state recognizing Arizona’s many achievements during its century-old legacy. Receiving salutes are Arizona’s five C’s – its top major resources - citrus, cattle, climate, copper, and last but not least – cotton.

Arizona’s cotton industry is actually older than the state, Greg Wuertz told the packed crowd at the 2012 joint meeting of the Arizona Cotton Growers Association (ACGA) and the Arizona Cotton Ginners Association. Wuertz, a Coolidge, Ariz., cotton grower, is the 2012-2013 ACGA president.

The official - by the book - record of Arizona’s cotton industry dates back to 1917, five years shy of the century mark.

Yet proof exists that cotton was grown as far back as 1893 – 119 years ago. A legislative bill signed then by the territorial governor, Wuertz says, offered $500 to the first cotton grower to produce and gin the first cotton bale of the season.

Yet by the book….Arizona’s 8,000 acres of cotton produced 7,100 bales in 1917. From such modest beginnings, Arizona cotton growers have produced 59 million bales worth $15.2 billion through the 2011 crop. The astonishing figure includes $2 billion in cottonseed value.

Yields of 425 pounds per acre in 1917 have almost quadrupled to 1,548 pounds per acre (800,000 bales) in 2011. Last year, Arizona led the nation in Upland cotton yields and set new state and national yield records.

The incredible cotton yield advances can be attributed to a plethora of factors including the development and grower use of Bt cotton and insect growth regulators. Several major pests have taken the eradication sword during the century including the boll weevil. The eradication of the pink bollworm (Arizona cotton’s most destructive pest currently) is right around the corner.

Insecticide usage in Arizona cotton has dropped significantly, says University of Arizona entomologist Peter Ellsworth. In recent decades, Arizona cotton growers on average applied nine insecticide sprays per season. Today’s figure is 1.5 average sprays. This reduction is a cumulative savings of $388 million savings left in cotton growers’ billfolds through 2011.

The spray reduction means about 19 million pounds less insecticide active ingredient in the environment (1.7 million pounds annually). On average, 23 percent of Arizona cotton acreage is never sprayed for arthropod insects anymore.

These are a plethora of reasons to celebrate as Arizona’s centennial year rolls along. Arizona’s cotton industry deserves a 21-gun salute for how the state’s deep-rooted fiber heritage continues to shape a better Arizona and nation for future generations. 

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