San Joaquin Valley cotton growers’ aggressive effort to turn back a menacing soil fungus that threatens to take out significant future crop acreage has suffered a major setback.

Earl Williams, president of the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations, informed association members recently that it is highly likely the USDA Research Station in Shafter, Calif., will close down and with it will go two key researchers working on impeding the deadly fungal disease Fusarium Race 4.

The station first appeared on a USDA closer list several months ago when SJV cotton growers mounted a strong effort to keep it open, soliciting the support of many agricultural groups in the state and lobbying USDA and Congress.

Early on, Williams said there was a 50-50 chance this lobbying effort would be successful. Recently, the final closer list was released, and Shafter is still on it.

Williams said working to keep it open has not stopped, but he said there is only about a 10 percent chance the historic station will remain open.

It has become so obvious the station will close that USDA refused to allow USDA-ARS research plant pathologist Rebecca Bennett and research geneticist/plant breeder Mauricio Ulloa to meet with the grower/industry Fusarium Race 4 group working to discuss their most recent research on Fusarium.

“It is absolutely ridiculous” is the way Williams described USDA’s response to growers and others to gain the latest information from these two researchers in the wake of the station closing or to perhaps hand it off to University of California researchers working on the same Race 4.

Williams told producers at the recent PhytoGen grower meetings that USDA has indicated it might move the research to another USDA research station, possibly in Mississippi. However, he is skeptical.

“Mississippi cotton growers do not want Fusarium research in their state,” said Williams. “The problem is in California and that is where the research should be conducted.”

What is even more frustrating is that the Fusarium Race 4 working group is targeting the problem with strong financial support for research coming from the California Cotton Alliance, California Crop Improvement Association and State Support money from Cotton Incorporated. This money could go to continue support of the USDA research.

Williams said the working group is trying to preserve some of the research conducted at Shafter by shifting it to the University of California, Davis where another leading expert on Fusarium Race 4, Mike Davis, is working on the problem.

It was Davis who first identified the Race 4 in the early 2000s. It had probably been in the San Joaquin Valley since 1990.