Cotton, once a 1.5-million-acre crop in the valley, has become the ugly cousin as permanent crops have offered far more income potential. Couple that with an increasingly limited water supplies, and cotton will always get shorted on water.

It also plays into the good water/bad water scenario. When surface water deliveries are short, growers rely on wells. However, this water is usually salty or poorer quality. Cotton can tolerate this poor quality water better than other crops, therefore, well water goes to cotton and good surface water to less salt-tolerant crops like almonds. “You may have only 15 percent of the farm in almonds, but when those almonds have a bumper crop and record prices, that is where the water will go,” says Hutmacher.

Although cotton has suffered financially in recent years, it is a row crop many producers continue to want to incorporate into their crop rotation, especially for crops like processing tomatoes, says Williams.

“Weeds are an issue following tomatoes, and Roundup Ready cotton is a way to take care of that issue,” says Williams. It is imperative garlic is rotated out of fields for at least four years to control white rot and cotton can be a good choice there. “Cotton fits in a row crop rotation, especially the west side of the valley.”

Unfortunately, cotton is not always the rotation crop of choice, due to its price and potential water demand.

Drip irrigation has helped keep cotton around by reducing its water requirements. Some growers with good water supplies have utilized drip to spoon feed and push cotton to those 4-bale, long-season yields. “These growers are not satisfied with 3-bale yields and their whole production scheme is to push the nutrients and water to maximum yields.”

Much of the drip in cotton was installed in fields first for vegetables and cotton benefitted from drip in rotation.  However, increasingly more growers are turning to drip for cotton first.

Hutmacher said there are a fair number of fields where water supplies are restricted and drip can stretch available water. Here growers practice what could be called precision deficit irrigation.

Hutmacher says growers in this situation deficit irrigate at 60 percent to 75 percent of the evapotranspiration rate for cotton. They will likely pre-irrigate with sprinklers to save water versus furrow irrigation and follow with a sprinkler first irrigation.

Then they will lay down pressurized, surface drip irrigation tape down every other row to manage deficit irrigation more closely the remainder of the year, making a crop on less water than furrow irrigation.

While some of this early cutout/good yield production was planned, others are suffering from cutout. “We definitely have a significant number of fields that likely will have some reduction in yield potential due to plant growth regulator rate choices, weather and delayed irrigation.

Wright has found the same thing. “I have talked to a few growers who are disappointed at this point in the season. They could have gotten more from this season. This is the type of season you could get four bales on longer season cotton if you did everything right on time.”

While much of the cotton is short and blooming out the top in cutout, one of the positive things he has seen is more fruiting positions on the plants.

“You can make a 3-bale crop on as few as 10 nodes, but we are seeing 10 to 12 nodes, which means the plant can keep going and push those third and fourth positions laterally,” says Wright.