It has been almost 30 years since the San Joaquin Valley was opened up to commercial cotton breeders after 50 years of a one-variety law.
Delta and Pine Land Co., the largest cotton seed company in the U.S., was one of the first to breed Acala cottons commercially for the valley after USDA dropped its breeding program. There were 1.5 million acres of cotton in California then.
However, the Scott, Miss.-based seed company never hid its desire to produce planting seed in the valley's ideal growing conditions. Ten years ago D&PL got its wish almost without asking when growers experienced a miserable spring that pushed cotton planting back to some of the latest dates ever. Growers petitioned the state to allow short season, non-Acala cottons in the valley and won the right to thereafter plant any variety they wanted.
Seed companies like Delta and Pine, Stoneville and Fiber Max rely on the San Joaquin Valley as a key growing area for seed production, offering up even more varieties for growers to choose from. Many of these have the latest biotechnology traits. There are more varieties available to growers than ever before, yet there are less than 500,000 acres of cotton left.
Glenn Powell of Visalia, Calif., Delta and Pine regional sales manager, told growers at one of the company's spring meetings at Harris Ranch in Coalinga, Calif. the selection of Deltapine varieties for the San Joaquin has never been greater.
Not only that, the company is shifting its Acala breeding program to focus on developing cottons that can be roller ginned. Three new experimental Roundup Flex Acalas will be entered into the San Joaquin Valley Cotton Board variety evaluation program this year.
Many are convinced if Acala cotton is to have a future in the San Joaquin, it must be roller ginned to set it apart from other saw ginned upland cottons produced elsewhere in the U.S.
Roller-ginned Acalas are bringing growers an extra 10 to 12 cents per pound in the marketplace. It costs only about a nickel per pound to roller gin Acala cotton versus faster saw ginning.
Like other cotton breeders in the valley, Delta and Pine has had to shift its focus to Extra Long Staple Pima cotton, which may be planted on as much as 320,000 acres in the valley this spring. Only about 175,000 acres of upland/Acalas are expected to be planted.
D&PL will have four Pimas to market this year. Powell says 744 and HTO will sell out due to limited seed supplies. DP 340 will sell out if 320,000 acres are planted as the National Cotton Council predicts. DP 353, the company's newest Acala, will have good seed supplies. A fourth DP Pima is 357, but there is only enough seed for seed increase this season.
D&PL is rapidly developing a Roundup Flex Pima by growing two crops a season, one in Costa Rica and one in the U.S., to introduce this new technology into Pima. Powell says D&PL hopes to have this cotton in the SJVCB testing program in 2009.
One of the biggest challenges facing SJV Pima growers is Race 4 Fusarium wilt, which is devastating to ELS Pima. Variety resistance is the only way to combat this and there is only one variety, Phytogen 800, commercially resistant.
However, Powell predicted aggressive breeding programs from Delta and Pine and other seed companies will result in many highly resistant varieties in five years.
“I think Race 4 Fusarium will go the way of verticillium wilt,” said Powell. Years ago verticillium was devastating to susceptible varieties. Today virtually all commercial varieties in the valley are verticillium-resistant.
Eight varieties Delta and Pine Land is marketing in the valley are non-Acala upland varieties grown primarily for seed production. Like all seed companies, D&PL is offering attractive incentives for seed production, even though many of these non-Acala uplands can significantly outyield SJV Acalas, according to Powell.
Growers have shied away from these because the lint has been heavily discounted by merchants as non-approved SJV cottons.
According to Powell, this will be the first year these non-Acala uplands will not carry an experimental on “California Upland” tag on the bale.
“You do not have to notify the state you are growing these cottons; you do not have to tag modules or bales. You do not have to tell the gin you are growing them. The cotton will be sold on HVI measurements,” he said.
This is not a unanimously embraced practice, although Powell believes eventually this will reduce the discount these California uplands now receive.
“I admit some like the new system; others hate it, but I believe it will all sort itself out in two to three years,” he said.
Many of these Delta and Pine Land cottons have stacked genes, either the older Bollgard/Roundup Ready combination or the newer Bollgard 2/Roundup Flex combination. Most Acalas do not have this technology.
The Flex gene allows growers to apply Roundup over the top to control weeds almost to harvest time versus only up to the fourth true leaf state with Roundup Ready technology.
The Bollgard II gene may have an economic impact in the valley since it controls armyworms and loopers, which can be a problem in the San Joaquin. The early Bollgard technology did not control these lepidopterous pests.