An unseasonably wet and cold weather front may have slowed California’s early cotton harvest, but it did not necessarily dampen grower and marketer enthusiasm for another good cotton year.

“Growers seem to be pretty optimistic,” said Earl Williams, president of the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations.

Harvesting started a bit late with pickers rolling in the southern San Joaquin Valley in late September gathering the valley’s 431,000 acres of cotton (273,000 Pima; 158,480 Acala/Upland).

The harvest was interrupted briefly last year, as well by early rains, but growers managed to gather a good 2010 crop. Williams is hoping for the same this season. “We made a good crop last year after some early harvest delays, and I think this crop is a little better than last year,” Williams remarked earlier this fall.

“You always have to worry about the weather, especially with Pima,” said Williams. Rain and fog are much more damaging to ELS cotton than Acala/Upland. Pima is a longer season cotton than Acala/Upland and rain and fog can inflict major economic downgrades in quality.

Like most California crops this year, cotton has been characterized as roughly two weeks late through the season, but nice weather in August and September helped it not only get some of that time back, but set more cotton.

“I think the cotton crop in the northern part of the valley has caught up,” remarked Bill Weir, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor emeritus.

Williams said he has had no reports of damage from the two days of rain followed by fog in several areas.

“I think you will see most growers back in the field around Oct. 10. The forecast calls for highs into the mid-80s,” he said.

A few fields were harvested ahead of the rain and modules are showing up on gin yards.

With a sharp increase in acreage this year after a slow decline in acreage over the years, Williams continues to be concerned about picking capacity.

“We have the ginning capacity. It is the picking I am worried about. There are apparently no custom pickers left in the valley. Many growers who got out of cotton several years ago sold their equipment. And there are a lot of new growers who do not have harvesting equipment,” Williams said. Hopefully, neighbors can share equipment as the season progresses.

“I have been getting calls from Texas custom harvesters wanting to know if there is business in California this year,” he said.

Williams believes growers share his weather and equipment concerns in the wake of last season. Growers dodged the bullet in 2010 and they know that, he acknowledged. He is convinced growers are moving as quickly as possible to get the crop to gins.