Chad uses UCC heat unit guidelines to determine when to plant. GPS guidance systems/yield monitors are on his equipment, and he has installed drip irrigation and water monitoring devices for efficient water use.

While Merced County is in the far north of the U.S. Cotton Belt, at the same latitude as Williamsburg, Va., the county average yield generally ranks a close second to Fresno County. In 2011, Merced’s 1,585-pound average was only 77 pounds behind Fresno. Chad’s 2012 cotton beat the county average by a long shot.

“It was a good year — maybe a little better than last,” he says, estimating 4.25 bales per acre on his 200 acres.

“We were down a bit on cotton acreage. We advance sold saw-ginned Daytona Acala for 97 cents per pound and wanted to plant more, but the price went down and we backed off.”

Next year, he says, if prices increase, he could go up to 700 acres of cotton on his family’s 1,800-acre operation. Their other crops in 2012 included processing tomatoes, alfalfa, corn, melons, vegetables and 40 acres of permanent pomegranates. In the past, he has also grown chili, small grains, organic Pima cotton and hybrid Hazera cotton.

When cotton prices fall, Chad considers himself fortunate to have economic alternatives. “Twenty years ago, 90 percent of the land around here was cotton after cotton,” says Bill. “We used to be happy with 3-bale, maybe 3-1/2 bale cotton. Now. we shoot for 4 bales, and a lot of that is due to the good rotation programs we currently use.”

Chad plants Daytona cotton, an older variety developed by California Cotton Planting Seed Distributors and now marketed by Bayer CropScience. Although it has a reputation for being tough to get out of the ground, he says it can be worth the wait because it is more heat-tolerant than other varieties.

“It seems to have a better fruiting cycle with our weather; we cool down more at night more than other areas.” He’s talking about days of 110 degrees and nights of 82 — ideal for the right cotton variety. He hill drops four seeds and aims for a plant population of about 58,000 per acre. All his crops are on 40-inch centers. For tomatoes, it’s 80-inch beds.