California's cotton industry has long been set apart from its sister cotton-producing states. In the early part of the 20th century when California's modern day, irrigated agriculture was in its formative stages, California cotton was considered an inferior product — it was irrigated, not rain grown, and therefore unwanted.

It was so bad it had to be shipped to the Mid South and retagged as Mississippi cotton to even attract a buyer.

Today's California cotton remains separated from other cotton producing areas, but now it is the envy of the other producers for its consistent, high quality and yields.

That became very evident amid a contentious debate during the 2001 Beltwide Cotton Conference in Anaheim, Calif., when cotton producers faced off with cotton breeders and cotton seed companies over what they considered yield and quality plateaus.

Conspicuously excluded from the finger pointing was California's six-county San Joaquin Valley cotton-producing area. It was singled out as the only place in where quality and yields were not falling. And that upward trend continued in 2002 when California set record upland yields. This year at Beltwide, non-California producers at were asking, “How do you guys do it?”

There is a story in this issue of Western Farm Press discussing California cotton and its continued advancement in yield and quality.

It is a source of justifiable pride for California. However, there are those within the valley's cotton industry who believe continued yield and fiber improvements prove that the door should have never been open to non-Acala cottons as it was several years ago.

It has been 25 years since the federal government got out of the cotton breeding business, and the valley was opened to private cotton breeders. However, the industry continued to maintain tight legislated controls over the quality of upland cotton grown in the valley. That changed dramatically again about four years ago when a prolonged, wet spring threatened producer profitability from longer season Acala cottons. After considerable debate, the so-called “non-approved” California uplands were allowed into the valley for the first time.

Now some contend that opening up the valley to non-Acalas has proven unnecessary in the wake of advancements in Acala yield and quality.

It was a good move that benefits producers, just like privatizing Acala breeding was. First, keeping short season varieties in the picture provides economic salvation when the next wet spring comes along. Secondly, they bolster Acala breeding.

The breeders who have developed genetically astounding Acalas also are using their talents to breed uplands for other parts of the U.S. Cotton Belt. This not only benefits the total U.S. cotton industry, but also will provide added income to maintain the progressive SJV Acala programs.

Any attempt to further stigmatize the so called California uplands or exclude them once again would be a step backward at a time when the San Joaquin Valley is moving forward and the envy of the U.S. cotton industry.

e-mail: hcline@primediabusiness.com