Pierucci says the overall 2012 growing season was “very good for cotton production.” The season began with a cold, early spring, but summer heat units delivered on-time plant maturity. Pima planting on the Pierucci farm began March 29 and a week later for Acala. Several applications of Pix managed plant maturity with more Pix applied to Pima than Acala.

A late-July heat wave caused some crop loss on the top of the plant, but not in the middle and bottom areas.

Over the last five years, populations of green leaf aphid and whitefly have increased on the farm largely tied to spring rains. This year, less spring moisture reduced pest numbers. The insecticide Assail applied at the 1.5 ounce per acre rate managed the aphid and whitefly pests.

“We defoliate the cotton one week after the spray,” Pierucci says. “We don’t want the insects to live and secrete on the cotton and cause stickiness. We work hard to deliver a quality product to our merchants.”

Crop defoliation began in mid-September. On the fertilization side, phosphate and potash is applied preplant in dairy manure by a spreader at the rate of 5 tons per acre on some fields.

Later, petioles are analyzed to determine the plant’s nitrogen needs. About 225 units of NH3-N (ammonia nitrogen) were incorporated preplant in several fields. The amount applied on average ranges from 180 to 225 units. Zinc is applied, depending on petiole analysis results, in 7-24-6 or 4-10-10 mixtures.

Plant water requirements average about 3.5 acre feet annually. A mixture of well water combined with surface water from the Buena Vista Water Storage District is delivered by furrow irrigation.

The district water assessment ranges from $35 to $40 per acre. Electricity costs to pump well water average $40 to $50 per acre foot. The farm’s 10 wells are 400 to 500 feet deep.

The most common soil on the Pierucci farm is a heavy loam called “Buttonwillow black dirt.” The soil is well suited for cotton, pistachios, alfalfa, and many grain crops.

This year, Pierucci forward contracted 400 bales of Acala at $1.03 per pound.

Looking down the road to retirement, Pierucci will plant pistachios, the UCD-1 variety, next spring in the ground where wheat was harvested this year. Ground preparation for the permanent crop is currently underway.

“Pistachios grow well in this area,” the Kern County farmer said. “Eventually, the ground I own — about 50 percent of the total farm — will likely be planted in pistachios due to the crop’s growing popularity with consumers, price, and reduced labor needs compared to field crops.”

Leased land will continue in field crop production. Pierucci values his landlords.

“My landlords are very important to me and I consider them very close farming partners.”

From Pierucci’s perspective, what is the future of the California cotton industry?

“I have to be optimistic since I am a cotton grower. It’s in my genes,” Pierucci said.

The key to the cotton industry’s future, he says, is finding new ways to reduce production costs. “We must incorporate the latest information including GPS and a wide range of other technologies to become even more efficient producers.”

Pierucci was awarded Western Farm Press’ coveted High Cotton Award in 2010 for his successful production practices and good stewardship of the land.

cblake@farmpress.com