VISALIA, Calif. – Kings County producer Ted Sheely did not want to work on Easter nor did he want his employees to be in the fields on the holiday.

“We had six harrows knocking down beds trying to keep up with the cotton planters on Saturday before Easter, but we did not get it all done,” lamented the veteran San Joaquin Valley producer.

Sheely was obviously not late planting if it was before Easter. What he was trying to do was to take advantage of almost unprecedented ideal weather for planting his 2004 Pima and Acala cotton crops.

“It has been absolutely the best planting season hands down since I started farming on the West Side of the valley in 1974,” said Sheely.

There was no Pima cotton in the valley 30 years ago. There may be 240,000 acres or more of it this year in what may shape up as the Pima year to beat all since Extra Long Staple cotton came into the valley 15 years ago. The 2004 acreage would set a record if it topped 240,000.

Sheely and other growers will be all ears May 11 when Jeff Elder, vice president, cotton marketing, J.G. Boswell Co., offers his Pima acreage estimate along with his market outlook at the Pima Production Summit at the Visalia Convention Center.

Sponsored by Western Farm Press, Supima, University of California and the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association, there should be a good crowd at this year’s sixth conference because no one will be planting cotton. They will be focused on when to start the first irrigation.

Pima has become an integral, successful part of the valley’s cotton industry, but it takes early planting to get good yields. This is undoubtedly the best season yet for Pima in the valley.

Sheely will share his experience along with other growers at the summit as part of a grower panel.

About 35 percent of his Sheely’s acreage is in Pima. “I did not increase my Pima acreage over last year,” said Sheely. The reason is that he does not want to chance late fall rains that could damage Pima quality. “We also want to get ready for tomatoes next year, and we need to work earlier Acala ground for that.”

The May 11 conference will also feature presentations from University of California farm advisors and specialists as well as a report on Supima promotional activities.

And there will be a panel of cotton breeders who will talk about not only new Pima varieties, but the next generation of cotton biotechnology and its impact on SJV Acala and Pima cotton breeding.

A full program accompanies this article. Registration and a continental breakfast begin at 8 a.m. with the first speaker at 9 a.m.

Application has been made for Department of Pesticide Regulation continuing education credit.

To register for the meeting, click on the blue and white box on the left side of this Web page or use the registration blank in the April 17 Western Farm Press. Registration forms also will be available the day of the summit.

There will be free lunch courtesy of the more than 20 commercial sponsors who will provide financial support for summit. Many of these exhibitors will have tables and booths set up at the summit to provide information on their products and services for the SJV cotton grower.

This year’s crop is certainly off to a far better start than last season when the planting weather was horrific.

At least half if not more of the San Joaquin Valley 2004 cotton crop was in the ground by Easter (April 11) and a good portion of it was up. Last year, significant SJV cotton acreage had not been planted by May 1. This year 100 percent may be emerged by then.

“We had a five-day heat unit forecast of 33 for Easter Sunday. It was amazing,” said Sheely. A five-day forecast of 20 heat units or more is considered ideal.

“We had a forecast of 18 units on Monday after Easter. We did not have a forecast of 18 until the middle of May last year,” said Sheely.

Cold, windy weather hit the valley after Easter. There were isolated showers as well. For many growers, Easter is the earliest they will plant. However, those who waited were way behind their neighbors.

The cold weather may have hampered late planters, but Sheely said it had “very little effect” on cotton already up.

It is shaping up to be a good year for Pima.

e-mail: hcline@primediabusiness.com