With retirement just months away, longtime California cotton industry leader Earl Williams gave heartfelt thanks to researchers who say they could be as close as two years from development of cotton varieties that are resistant to a problem that has nagged the state for about two decades, Fusarium Race 4.

Williams, president and CEO of CaliforniaCotton Growers and Ginners Associations, then proceeded to deliver frank and impassioned concerns about another problem facing the state’s industry this year: “sticky cotton.”

As pleased as Williams was about progress being made in the battle against Fusarium, which he said has been “the No. 1 enemy” of California cotton, he appeared just as concerned about the sticky cotton issue that has been triggered this year by the worst whitefly infestation in more than a decade.

Sticky cotton results from honeydew secreted by white flies and cotton aphids.

Williams warned that sticky cotton can sour markets in the U.S. and abroad.

“When we had sticky cotton in a few areas last year, we had one of the largest mills in China that registered complaints,” he said.

He urged cooperation among all of cotton’s players to address the issue.

“We need cooperation from growers,” Williams said, “We need cooperation from (pest control advisors). We need cooperation from the ginners who are going to be ginning this crop. We need cooperation from the merchant community that’s going to be putting this crop into channels around the world. Our reputation is dependent upon it.”

Williams said the stakes are even higher today, given that the total acreage of cotton in California has dwindled to 275,000 acres from the more than 1 million acres it once covered.

“It’s more important to protect markets,” Williams said. “The smaller the crop, the bigger the microscope.”

Williams and others said there is still time to address the issue, given that the cotton harvest is several weeks away.

One way to address it is to spray before picking.

Among those addressing Williams and others for a cotton research update was Steve Wright, a University of California farm advisor for Tulare and Kings Counties. He said harvest preparation this year can include spraying for the pest at the same time defoliants are applied.

A report presented to participants in the Five Points field day at the California West Side Research and Extension Center stated: “There may be advantages to stepping up the timing of harvest aid application to start the process of removing leaves that encourage continuing population of whitefly and perhaps aphids. If you are not likely to gain a large amount of yield waiting for very late bolls on the plants, the advantages of limited whitefly populations and sticky cotton potential likely outweigh the value of yield gains.”