These may be the dog days of August, but for San Joaquin Valley cotton producers their cotton crop has the look of a streaking, lean greyhound driving to cross the finish line a winner.

“Generally, everyone is pretty high on this year’s crop in the valley,” says Earl Williams, president of the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations.

University of California Extension Specialist Bob Hutmacher agrees: “The crop looks quite good overall — knock on wood. We have had no terrible localized hot spots like we did last year.”

The only disappointments with the 366,000-acre crop are the market prices being offered for both Pima and Acala, although there has been some slight improvement of late. 224,500 acres of this year’s valley crop is Pima. The rest is Acala/Upland. The total acreage is down almost 21 percent from last year’s 454,000 acres.

“It is the best crop I have seen in a long time. It loaded up quickly, and we are already to cutout in most areas,” says Steve Wright, UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor for Kings and Tulare counties.

It’s a bit early to put a hard number on potential yield, but Williams says 1,400 pounds of Pima per acre and 1,500 pounds of Acala are attainable average yields with the current crop conditions.

Taking some of sting off the low prices is the fact that lygus, mite and other pest pressure has been generally low to this point in the season and that has helped reduce grower costs, particularly in the mid and south Valley, compared to the past two years.

Hutmacher warns, however, that the threat of aphids and whiteflies remain, and growers must be vigilant to bring this crop in without honeydew damaging the lint.

This is another irrigation water-short year in the valley and lower value cotton is usually shorted on water. Growers will use available, high quality surface water for higher value, permanent crops like almonds, pistachios, walnuts and grapes or vegetable crops like contracted processing tomatoes, broccoli or garlic.

It is a gamble for growers to plant cotton in a water-short year if the season drags on and they run out of water before setting a profitable crop. However, the water gamble paid off in 2012 for many growers who saw their plants load fruit early.

When cotton loads heavily early, growers end up with short stature fields. Some fields look like miniature greyhounds. Hutmacher says there are many boll-laden fields with plants only 18 to 24 inches tall in early August. Fruit set has been good valley wide, even in the northern reaches where growers got a later start than they wanted. The short-stature fields are normally found in areas where growers have a short water supply or soil conditions limit growth.

“These short plants blooming in early August remind us we have water issues in the valley,” says Hutmacher. This year, however, those short plants are holding good yield potential. “You may not make 4 bales from them, but it is not unrealistic to expect 2.5 to 3 bales with excellent quality lint, if we play our cards right from here on out.

“The best available plant growth regulator (PGR) is fruit retention,” muses Hutmacher. Lygus and heat are the two biggest fruit drop factors. Lygus has been light season-long. Even though the temperatures have been well above 105 several days this summer, nighttime temperatures have not been high. This has allowed the cotton to tolerate the heat by respiring in the evening.