San Joaquin Valley cotton acreage should take a 10 percent jump next season, according to California Planting Cotton Seed Distributors (CPCSD) president Bill Van Skike.

This will come largely at the expense of other crops like alfalfa and processing tomatoes, which are less attractive than cotton and therefore will likely be replaced by cotton, he explained.

Cotton prices are on the upswing, but more importantly the transgenic era of herbicide resistance in cotton is making it a good hedge against the ever-narrowing spread between cost of production and return.

"A lot of growers are telling us they are saving $100 to $125 per acre in weed control hoe and spray costs with Riata Roundup Ready," said Van Skike, who said CPCSD's industry advisory panel said the variety that was sold out this year could represent as much as 80 percent of the seed distributor's volume in 2001.

"The fact that these herbicide-resistant cottons are increasing grower margins by cutting costs is putting pressure on us to get the herbicide-resistant gene into Ultima and other varieties," said Van Skike.

Ultima is one of CPCSD's newest Acala varieties and is being touted for its "Pima-like" qualities. It was one of the stars of the show at the cooperative's 64th annual field day recently at Shafter, Calif.

"We've shown that you can develop cotton varieties with high yields as well as high quality," says Don Cameron, manager of Terranova Ranch west of Fresno and CPCSD board chairman.

Ultima is an approved Acala variety that was recently released for commercial production. It was grown on only about 4,000 acres in the valley this season, virtually for all seed production.

Van Skike said yields have consistently equaled Maxxa.

High quality lint "What makes Ultima truly remarkable is the quality of the lint," says Steve Oakley, CPCSD vice president of research and development. "The variety has exceptional fiber quality characteristics, such as strength and length, that are unparalleled in any other Acala variety. Fiber length measurements of Ultima average nearly 1 1/4, while its strength exceeds that of Maxxa."

CPCSD asked Cotton Incorporated to conduct a test to evaluate the feasibility of spinning a 60-count combed ring spun yarn from the lint, the finest yarn count normally spun in the United States. The test was so successful, CI lab personnel investigated the possibility of spinning even finer counts, Ne 80/1 and 100/1's. Typically, finer yarn counts of Ne 80/1 and higher are produced abroad at high quality spinning mills in Europe, Asia and the Far East. And typically, those yarns are spun from Pima and Egyptian cotton.

CI spun the yarn from samples both roller- and saw-ginned. The saw-ginned fibers were surprisingly stronger and longer than the roller-ginned samples, thereby increasing the likelihood that lint from Ultima varieties could be processed with a saw gin.

"The initial results of these tests indicate that Ultima could very well be purchased by mills as an alternative to Pima for certain end uses," Van Skike says. "We see that as a very positive marketing advantage that may help growers demand a premium for the lint. Coupled with yield potential, that becomes quite an attractive economic scenario for the grower."

However, growers want more and that is a Roundup Ready Ultima. Van Skike promised it as quickly as possible.

CPCSD's other transgenic, Acala BXN Nova that is resistant to over-the-top applications of Buctril 4EC herbicide also sold out this year, even though it was not an approved variety and must be marketed as a California upland.

"There were 36,000 acres of Nova planted this year, and we expect demand to increase," said Van Skike. This higher demand will come if the San Joaquin Valley Cotton Board approves if for release in March. However, even if it is not approved, Van Skike expects it to increase in use because of label changes reducing plant-back restrictions for using Buctril in a tomato/cotton rotation because of Buctril's superior control of nightshade.

According to Lowell Zelinski, vice president of operations and production for CPCSD, Acala BXN Nova is expected to receive official certification later this year by the SJVCB. "I don't see any significant issues threatening the board's approval of Acala BXN Nova," Zelinski said.

Another futuristic approved variety promises a unique marketing niche for growers looking to capitalize on the lucrative food-grade oil and feed market. Acala GLS is a glandless cotton variety that does not require any additional processing to remove the gossypol glands found in traditional cotton varieties. The seeds from Acala GLS are naturally a food-grade product that can be fed to all livestock or used in cooking oils for human consumption.

Of the total San Joaquin Valley upland acreage, CPCSD varieties represented 62 percent. Of the Acala acreage, CPCSD varieties represented 79 percent of the approved Acalas planted this year, according to Van Skike.

Maxxa continues to be the most popular CPCSD variety with more than 29 percent of the Valley's upland acreage, according to Van Skike.

CPCSD has six Pimas and four so-called California uplands currently under evaluation for submission to the cotton board for possible release in the case of the Pimas or for release valleywide in the case of the non-Acala Uplands.

"We also are working with Monsanto on introduction of the Bollgard II gene in cotton for the San Joaquin," he said. The first Bollgard gene had little application against beet armyworm and other worm pests in the valley. The second generation Bt gene is expected to have more activity on worm pests in the San Joaquin.