The San Joaquin Valley lives and dies on the strength of Pima cotton. It has been a roller coaster ride of late.

Two years ago 850,000 bales of American Pima were sold with many forecasting there would be a 1-million-bale market in Pima’s future.

Then the world recession hit. Many believed the luxury goods market where Pima is sold would weather the storm. It did not.

“Eighteen months ago you could hardly give away a Pima bale,” said Jesse Curlee, president of Supima, the marketing and promotion organization for American Pima cotton.

Some gave up the Pima niche market for dead, but Supima kept pushing forward with its marketing and licensing efforts.

Perseverance paid off, and demand has rebounded.

“We could definitely use a bigger crop than it looks like we will have this year,” said Curlee.

Pima buyers, particularly the 365 Supima licensees, are frequently calling the association’s Phoenix offices to get an update on the 2010 crop. There are concerns that supplies will not meet market demand.

“I suspect all the Pima cotton will go to the licensees. Those who want Pima for its fine fiber feel in generic products are going to have tough time getting it,” said Curlee.

Merchants are cautiously selling 2010 crop, uncertain of supplies at this point.

“Buyers are not happy with the price, but they think they will get what the need,” he said. “They need Pima to support the brand.”

Half of the American Pima crop will go to China, not only for Supima products produced there for export, but for the consumer market in China. “China’s economy is strong, and we are looking more and more at that market for consumer advertising,” Curlee said.

Supima’s marketing efforts have revitalized demand. However, Curlee said the retail economy if far from a full pre-recession recovery.

“Retail and specialty stores are still not as well off as they would like. They are still suffering and cautious. However, they have decided to move forward and start buying again. Supima has got enough power to keep it going in this economy. It is a strong branded program for retailers like Bloomingdale’s and Brooks Brothers.”

California cotton’s future is bright, if fall weather will cooperate.

hcline@farmpress.com