San Joaquin Valley Pima cotton growers are in a unique position this season. They are the only producers in the world with commercial access to a Roundup-resistant Extra Long Staple (ELS) cotton variety.

This makes SJV producers the envy of growers in the other three Western U.S. Pima producing states. You can bet they would like a bag or two of planting seed to try this season.

“If you get a call from your friends in Arizona, New Mexico or west Texas asking you to send them some PHY 805 RF Pima, don’t go there,” warned Harry Peck, Dow AgroSciences Central Valley representative.

“The program will crash in a heartbeat if you go there,” Peck told about 80 producers in Tulare, Calif., attending one of three recent grower meetings sponsored by Phytogen to detail company varieties available in the San Joaquin.

It has taken two years to open the door to herbicide-resistant Pima in California, and it came only after hard bargaining and compromises. A violation of the pact between growers, Monsanto and Dow could kill the deal.

Growers are very familiar with the Roundup-resistant technology in upland cottons and have long wanted it in Pima. It has been genetically available, but because Monsanto has not won approval from Japan for shipment of the cottonseed into that market, Monsanto has not, until this season, allowed Phytogen to market Roundup Flex Pima planting seed.

It is being permitted exclusively in California only in 2010 thanks to a cottonseed stewardship program brokered by the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations and President Earl Williams.

Monsanto has agreed to let Phytogen market the herbicide-resistant ELS cotton in California provided cottonseed does not leave the U.S. Growers and ginners must agree in writing to that pact before they are allowed to buy planting seed. The cottonseed can be sold for livestock feed and other uses in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, according to Peck, but nowhere else.

This deal is particularly critical for California since Pima cotton has become the foundation of the state’s cotton industry, which has faltered lately to the lowest acreage level in 80 years. There has been more Pima acreage in the state than upland for the past several years.

Official estimates place the 2010 California cotton acreage at 275,000 acres, an increase from last year’s 190,000, the lowest since the 1920s.

Almost 200,000 acres this season are projected to be planted to Pima and only 85,000 acres to upland varieties.

Early 2010 estimates are considered low by some. Projections for 2010 are as high as 400,000 total acres for California.

World Pima demand has gone through the roof. Merchants are saying the small 2009-2010 American Pima crop will be sold out before the new marketing year begins in August. This is driving Pima prices much higher.

Current ELS spot quotes are above $1.20 per pound. Registered export sales for the 2009-2010 crop year are nearing 600,000 bales, 557 percent of the sales level at the same time last year when only 105,800 bales in sales had been registered. This season’s shipments stand at 915 percent of last year with 530,800 bales shipped versus 58,000 bales at the same time last season, according to Supima, the marketing/promotion association for American Pima cotton.

California produces more than 90 percent of America’s Pima cotton.

PHY 805 RF Pima is expected to open up new acreage where weeds like morningglory, nightshade, pigweed and purslane not only compete for water and nutrients with the cotton crop, but can also cause lint staining.

The new 805 RF contains the Roundup Flex gene, which allows Roundup to be applied over the top of the plant virtually up to harvest time.

The new herbicide-resistant cotton has a fiber package similar to its parent, PHY 800, the most widely planted Pima in the valley. However, the company reports significantly greater fiber strength than 800.

In yield trials, 805 outyielded 800 from between 3 percent to 6 percent, according Phytogen.

Like 800, it is also resistant to Race 4 fusarium, a soil-borne disease that is particularly deadly to Pima.

Peck said there should be adequate 805 RF planting seed available, “unless acreage goes through the roof.”

Phytogen will continue to market 800 as well as PHY 830 Pima, which is five to six days earlier than 800. It is better suited to the northern San Joaquin Valley’s shorter growing season.

While the San Joaquin is poised for a sharp increase in Pima acreage, the weather will have everything to say about just how much is planted. Pima is a longer season cotton than upland. Although May plantings have been successfully harvested in the past, experts say the ideal planting window is April 1-20 to get it out of the field.

Heavy rain can result in significant fiber discounts.

Most growers are bedded up and ready to plant while California experiences heavy, but welcome winter rains through January and February. If heavy rain continues through March, it could have a significant impact on Pima acreage, much more so than upland.

• Acala varieties

Peck said PHY 755 WRF could become the most widely planted Acala cotton in the valley this season and for at least one reason some growers may find surprising.

He said that 755 WRF has the potential to yield four bales or more, and it is one of the best suited Acalas for roller-ginning, the same ginning process used for ELS Pima.

Roller ginning Acala can generate a significantly higher lint price compared to saw-ginned Acala; in the range of 10 to 12 cents per pound more than saw-ginned. However, the biggest advantage to roller ginning it is a higher turnout. It is not uncommon to find roller-ginned turnouts 3 percent higher than the same varieties saw-ginned.

Besides the higher turnout, PHY 755 WRF has a staple length of 40, which is only slightly less than the lowest Pima grade. Textile mills substitute roller ginned Acala for ELS cottons, especially when Pima becomes high priced. However, mills cannot do this if the yarn, fabric or finished product carries a Supima label. Products saying Supima must be 100 percent Pima cotton.

It is the only transgenic Acala cotton available to SJV cotton growers with a gene making it resistant to worm pests. Dow calls this trait “WideStrike.” It carries a tech fee in the San Joaquin of only about $5 per acre. Worms can occasionally be a pest of SJV cotton. Peck said the WideStrike tech fee equals one worm spray and could be a good investment against worms.

WideStrike wards off more than a dozen lepidopterous pests, including armyworm and pink bollworm. Some growers also learned in Tulare that 755 WRF has another transgenic attribute, resistance to another herbicide, glufosinate, marketed under the trade name Ignite by Bayer CropScience.

Tulare County farmer Mark Watte asked about this resistance because he took advantage of it last season. He applied Ignite over the top of 755 WRF to control broadleaf weeds that glyphosate (Roundup) may be weak on.

“It works well on nightshade and morningglory,” said Watte. Ignite also controls Palmer amaranth, woolly cupgrass, velvetleaf, cocklebur, foxtails, ragweeds and waterhemp, along with ALS-resistant and glyphosate-resistant weeds, according to Bayer.

Globally, there is no documented weed resistance to Ignite.

Peck said Dow AgroSciences representatives are not permitted to discuss that trait.

Growers in the Mid-South, where WideStrike and other worm resistant transgenic cottons are widely used, discovered this Ignite resistance in Dow/Phytogen WideStrike cottons.

Dow has acknowledged it saying the gene which confers a level of tolerance to glufosinate ammonium herbicides is the selectable marker in WideStrike cotton varieties.

However, the tolerance to glufosinate ammonium herbicides provided by the gene in WideStrike is not equivalent to the glufosinate ammonium herbicide tolerance of LibertyLink cotton, according to Dow.

LibertyLink is the trademark herbicide-resistant trait of Bayer CropScience transgenic cotton varieties.

Researchers at the universities of Georgia and Tennessee evaluated the use of Ignite over the top of WideStrike cottons, since growers are apparently using it widely to control glyphosate-resistant weeds, particularly Palmer amaranth.

Researchers report, however, it is not uncommon to see 10 to 20 percent and maybe as high as 30 percent injury from the use of glufosinate ammonium on Phytogen WideStrike cotton varieties. However, the cotton grows out of it and no yield loss has been documented, according to the researchers.

Neither Dow nor Bayer recommend the use of Ignite over WideStrike Phytogen cottons nor do they stand behind that use.

Researchers in the South claim that since Ignite is federally labeled for use on cotton, both tolerant and non-tolerant cottons, it is not technically illegal to use it over WideStrike cotton since it is technically tolerant.

Ignite is labeled for use on cotton in California. However, the label reads that it is for use on cottons specifically identified as tolerant to Ignite herbicide.

It is labeled for use on varieties “non-tolerant” to glufosinate ammonium (Ignite). However, it must be applied using hooded or shielded sprayers to keep the herbicide off the cotton.

Phytogen also will market PHY 725 RF Acala and PHY 72 Acala this season.

email: hcline@farmpress.com