While 2010 is in the headlights, 2011 is really not that far away. Price quotes are already floating around for Pima for 2011. One grower said he has been offered $1.25 per pound for 2011 Pima, seven or eight months before it is planted.

$1 and now $2 cotton are the brass rings in farming, and many growers said there are people looking to rent land to grow Pima next season due to the current prices. Many former growers still have cotton equipment and are ready to jump back in. Everyone wants to grow Pima, and many continue to try it for the first time.

East of Tulare and just a few miles to the west, Pima does not do well. It is best suited to soil conditions on the far West Side of the San Joaquin Valley.

“Several growers have struggled with Pima this year — over watering it for one thing,” said Phytogen’s Harry Peck, Central Valley Dow AgroSciences representative. “I have walked more cotton fields than I have in a long time for growers who were seeing problems.” Most of those strolls came early as growers grew anxious about slow emerging cotton. Also new Pima growers become concerned about the amount of white they see. Peck has to remind them that Pima bolls are smaller; there are twice as many Pima bolls as Acala bolls on the plant.

Phytogen sells more than 80 percent of the Acala and Pima cotton planting seed in the San Joaquin Valley. “Growers on the West Side of the Valley do a great job with Pima. That is not the case as you move to the east.”

Nevertheless, Pima continues to reach into areas not historically well suited for it, primarily because of a shorter growing season. The northern San Joaquin Valley is one of those areas. Growers there have long wanted to grow Pima. Phytogen has provided a shorter season Pima for that area and there is more of it this season.

“A lot of growers are banking on Pima this season in the northern end of the Valley,” said Dow’s Nick Higgins, who covers that area.

Merced County has been one of the highest cotton producing Acala/Upland counties in the Valley for several years. North Valley growers expect to be challenged at harvest by the weather and typically start early with defoliation.

“We typically defoliate about the same time as Kern County growers. Not this year,” said Higgins. “It is going to be a challenging and maybe a make-or-break year for Pima in the north Valley. It all depends on what kind of weather we get from here on out.”

Regardless of what happens this season, there will be more cotton planted in California next season. Peck said it would not be surprising to see it reach 400,000 acres from the 303,000 this season.

However, cotton will be economically challenged by high wheat and corn prices right now, both price benefactors from Russia’s pullout of the world wheat market.

Pima is expected to remain particularly strong through 2011. This will bolster Phytogen’s Pima breeding efforts, according to chief Phytogen cotton breeder Joel Mahill. He said the company has promising new Roundup Flex varieties as well as newer, earlier Pima germplasm.

Tulare County grower Mark Watte reminded Mahill that just went of Tulare is Acala country and advised that Phytogen not forget that market.

Mahill admitted Phytogen scaled back its Acala breeding efforts about two years ago with the decline in California cotton acreage, but Mahill has been “stoking the fire” to ramp up the Acala breeding program.

hcline@farmpress.com