Groefsema believes U.S. acreage will be 9.5 to 10 million acres, down from 12 million last season. “There will be a significant shift out of cotton,” he said. He said California acreage could be down a third. Palla believes upland/Acala could be down 25 percent and Pima 35 percent or more,” depending on water availability. A lot can happen between now and March though.”

Worsham is “cautiously optimistic” that CI can regain market share, but the check-off program’s focus will be far different than it once was. The quality attributes of the U.S. grown fiber have long been cotton’s strong suit from the textile mill to the retail shelves.

U.S. cotton quality has not changed, but “absolutely” the No. 1 issue with people who buy cotton is now “sustainability. You cannot market cotton without a strong sustainability story.”

Worsham believes CI can make a strong sustainability case why retailers and textile manufacturers should go back to cotton now that prices are more reasonable.

It has taken two years to put together a credible set of facts to market a sustainability message. Cotton’s environmental footprint is smaller than it was 20 to 30 years ago with advanced technology like improved water and energy efficiencies, reduced soil losses, GPS technology and the like. There is also solid information to refute cotton’s critics, who claim cotton is a big water and pesticide user.

“Cotton has to remake itself to regain market share. However, cotton can carry its own weight in a tough crowd,” he said, admitting however that some of the environmental information cotton buyers and retailers often ask for can be nebulous and difficult to quantify.

Worsham said CI has had success in turning around cotton’s fortunes, and the textile industry is “moving back to cotton.” It is once again “very competitive” with synthetics on price. “I am cautiously optimistic,” he says of the future.

Palla may not have as much cotton to wrangle as he did last season, but he will be kept busy ramping up management of the storiedformer Cotton Research Station in Shafter, Calif.

The San Joaquin Valley Quality Cotton Growers Association is leasing the 80-acre facility in Shafter, Calif., and managing it as a research site.

The Shafter station has been the focal point of San Joaquin Valley cotton industry since 1922. USDA-ARS abandoned the station last June. The association stepped in to preserve it as a research site.

Palla told the association members there has been considerable clean-up of the site. In fact the association’s annual meeting was held in one of the complex’s newer conference rooms.

Palla say the association will build a solar energy plant on site to reduce the energy cost. The facilities are owned by Kern County.

At least a dozen private and public organizations, including the University of California and California State University, Bakersfield have expressed interest in conducting research on the site.

“Our goal is to have a 50 percent utilization rate on the labs and greenhouses by the end of next year,” said Palla. “The experimental plot land will be utilized to a 100 percent value, either for active research use or commercial cropping of the land, as we have done this year.” As a transition measure, the association produced an Acala cotton crop yielding 2,076 pounds per acre on the station’s experimental crop landin 2012 with profits going to the association for station management.

“Reasonably, we should be full within two years. We are in the process of soliciting specific facility component interests from potential research clients, and we already have some wish lists coming in.”