As the 2000 cotton season drew to a close, Sacramento Valley ginners and growers gave favorable reports and good prospects, including a hike in acreage for the coming season, at a recent meeting of growers in Colusa.

John Gilbert of Sacramento Valley Gin at Williams said, "Things look pretty good, so there's a lot of interest for the coming year," adding that the valley's cotton acreage might expand in 2001 to 20,000 to 25,000 acres.

Colusa, Yolo, Glenn, and Sutter counties had 17,000 acres in 2000, and some observers say the 2001 total might go to 30,000 acres.

Yields recorded at Sacramento Valley Gin spanned 1.5 to 4.2 bales to the acre, and many fields made at three bales. "We had rains in October that were tough to deal with, but in general I think things went pretty well."

Gilbert said after 20,000 bales, or about half the gin's anticipated volume, micronaire is high and 75 percent of the strength readings fell in the 26.5 to 29.5 range.

Staple ran in the 35 to 36 range, and leaf content showed many 1s and 2s in the early cotton and concentrations of 3s later. Color ran under 30 until the rains and later ranged upward, with some at 41.

The numbers in the first week of December reflect cotton that was caught by rains and consequently ginned first. "So from that standpoint we still have some of the better cotton yet to gin. It was picked either before or after the rain and is likely in better shape."

He stressed the need for cotton to be picked and moduled as soon as possible to protect it from rain.

One nagging limitation on the valley's cotton acreage has been the availability of harvesters, and that question came up again from the audience of 75 growers.

Buy own harvesters "One way is for growers to buy their own harvesters," Gilbert quipped. Then he explained uncertainties about the availability of custom harvesters traveling from the San Joaquin Valley.

"First, if they have cotton in front of them, they will stay home and pick it. In the second place, cotton acreage in the San Joaquin will definitely be up next season, that will put more pressure on custom harvesting people down there."

Estimates are that SJV cotton acreage could be up about 10 percent, to 1 million acres, for 2001.

Allowing that growers with 100 to 200 acres will have to make arrangements with custom operators, Gilbert said those with 500 to 600 acres will look at buying their own harvesters.

Mel Amarel of North Valley Gin near Sutter said on the basis of grower interest he's seen, he expects acreage in the valley to be up substantially in 200l.

Concurring with Gilbert, he said, "We are seeing the same things, but we'll be finished in another week. After the second or third rain, picking got harder, and turnouts went from averaging 37 to 39 percent down to 34 to 35 percent. We ran into problems with trash."

He said they recorded a lot of 3s and 4s on leaf, and it has been nearly impossible to remove, even with slower machinery speed and increased dryer heat.

Amarel agreed that the picking campaign needs to be limited to no more than 35 to 40 days. "For a hundred acres of cotton you can't just go buy a picker. But with 500 acres you can take a look at a four-row machine and a module builder to make sure you get your cotton picked in a 30-day period."

At any rate, Amarel urged growers to work with their gin and make plans and commitments early for things like the number of module covers or module moving trucks. "You don't want to have to look at modules in your fields for a month."

In a pest management panel, Darrin Williams, PCA with Colusa Farm Supply, said accumulated heat units for the Sacramento Valley usually call for planting around April 15 and later, although growers shouldn't pass up a window in March if it occurs.

At the other end of the season, when heat units decline, defoliation should be around Oct. 1, he said. By Nov. 1, it is difficult to open bolls.

"In Colusa, we are considerably behind Five Points in Fresno County for heat units. That has a lot to do with pest management, and generally our thresholds for treatments for lygus, aphids, and mites are lower than in the SJV, and you really don't have time to make up for any mistakes," he said.

`Start small' Panelist Judy Brown, an Orland grower who was one of the first in the Sacramento Valley to grow cotton, advised growers: "Start small with acreage you can manage. Look at the plants twice a week, identify the pests and control them." She urged growers to be particularly vigilant for armyworms.

Mike Pettigrew, PCA with John Taylor Fertilizer in Colusa, said growers may a have period of "information overload" in becoming accustomed to growing cotton. "But it's not as overwhelming as some might think." He added, however, that growers need to be prepared to learn something new each season.

Doug Munier, farm advisor for Butte, Glenn and Tehama counties, reviewed his variety trials for 2000 in Colusa and Butte counties. Those two are the latest in a series of trials that he started in 1996.

Of the 80 varieties tested, the lower yielding are 50 to 60 percent of the yield of the standard, Stoneville 474, while some of the very best yields exceed the standard by 5 to 10 percent.

"You really need to compare varieties as a percentage of the standard, at locations and over several years, because every variety is not planted at every location every year."

Munier said Stoneville 474, which showed yields of 1,349 pounds in Colusa County, was arbitrarily selected as the standard in 1996. "It's been a good, solid, consistent yielder."

However, he added, it has some peculiar quality problems, including its hairy leaf which does not take defoliant well, causing more trash, and its lint's lower strength than contemporary varieties.

Of particular interest, he said, was Deltapine's DP 388 which produced a yield of 1,530 pounds, or 13 percent more than the standard, in the Colusa County trial.

Germain's GC 204, in its second year of tests, posted a yield of 1,301 pounds in Colusa County in the 2000 season. It was first noticed because of its quality.

Stoneville's ST BXN 47, a Buctril-tolerant variety, yielded 1,268 pounds, or 94 percent of the standard, in Colusa County.

"Given that the seed costs of most of the top-yielding varieties are about the same, a 10 percent increase in yield could be most of the profit," said Munier.

Acala varieties, long dominate in San Joaquin Valley cotton production, were found to yield 70 to 75 percent of ST 474.

Bob Hutmacher, University of California Cooperative Extension cotton specialist at the meeting, said, "just because a variety performs well in the San Joaquin Valley doesn't mean it does the same in the Sacramento Valley, or vice versa."

Munier noted that for the Sacramento Valley, varieties having herbicide tolerance are essential because of the weed pressure of cotton planted on rice ground.

"Another thing to remember in selecting a variety is resistance to verticillium wilt, the primary disease in cotton. It's important to us because it is a cool weather disease. In the San Joaquin Valley the wilt is worst in Merced County's lower temperatures, so since sometimes we have even cooler temperatures, it is something to watch."

Munier, who will be taking sabbatical leave starting in January to work on weed management, prepared the "Sacramento Valley Cotton Production Guide" to assist growers. It is available through Glenn County Cooperative Extension in Orland.