As challenging as water may be, it pales in comparison to the biggest challenge California cotton has faced in its 100-year history, FOV (Fusarium) Race 4. It is a soil borne pathogen that can render fields unsuitable for cotton farming forever.

It is also a threat that has consequences far beyond California. The Golden State is a significant source for cotton planting seed across the Cotton Belt, due to ideal growing conditions. The California Crop Improvement Association is taking added measures to ensure that seed fields are not infected with Race 4.

Race 4 is not spread by nematodes like other Fusarium races. It is spread primarily in the movement of soil and infected plant debris. It can also be spread on infected planting seed as well as tailwater containing soil particles from infected fields.

California Cotton Growers and Ginners Associations President Earl William unequivocally calls Race 4 “the biggest threat to the California cotton industry.”

Already some growers have red-lined fields never to be planted to cotton again because of widespread Race 4, which only effects cotton.

The industry may be small in comparison to years past, but it is fighting back with all available resources to turn back the Race 4 threat with an aggressive research and informational program.

The ultimate solution is resistant varieties. Already, there are several Pimas highly resistant and some promising Acalas.

The second line of attack is to contain Race 4 when found and minimize its spread.

University of California Extension cotton specialist Bob Hutmacher said the spread of the pathogen is “slowing down,” partly because of reduced cotton acreage, but partly because of the better understanding by growers and Pest Control Advisers (PCAs) of the problem. California Cotton Growers Association has spearheaded an aggressive information campaign to spread the word of the threat and offer recommendations to hold it in check.

 

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A decade ago when the problem first surfaced, Race 4 was a pariah. Growers did not want others to know they had infected fields. Their fear was that it would reduce land values. It did in Australia where growers also have a Race 4 problem.

Hutmacher said California growers want to know if there is a problem and how to deal with it. Hutmacher said he made farm calls to 90 or 100 fields last year where growers wanted an assessment from him.

“Growers are pretty cognizant and concerned about the problem. They have a better understanding that is important to protect the industry, particularly to protect seed fields,” he said.

“We have the good misfortune you might say of having access to some really good Race 4 (infected) fields where we can evaluate varieties and conduct other research,” he said. The Cotton Alliance and the cotton growers association have stepped up with funding for a post doctoral student to work in the research program this summer. Cotton Incorporated also has contributed to the research effort. USDA-ARS continues to support research, as well.