A replacement for the very popular, but stigmatized Roundup Ready Acala variety Riata is rapidly approaching the marketplace.
Steve Oakley, director of research for California Planting Cotton Seed Distributors, said the yet unnamed herbicide-resistant Acala should be readily available in 2003.
“We are planning on a 5,000-acre seed increase next year which means we should have more than adequate seed for 2003,” said Oakley. The “new” Riata is a re-selection from the germplasm that produced the original Riata.
Oakley said the replacement has half the seed coat fragments as Riata and 30 to 40 percent less than Maxxa, Riata's parent variety.
“Plus we are seeing a 5 to 7 percent yield increase over Riata, which has proven to be 8 to 15 percent better than Maxxa,” said Oakley. “The new Riata has improved fiber quality.”
Riata was the most popular upland planted in the San Joaquin Valley this season with 22 percent of the acreage, CPCSD president and CEO Bill Van Skike told a large crowd at the seed distributor's 65th annual field day recently in Shafter. Maxxa is second with 19 percent.
Growers quickly embraced the Riata since it was the first Roundup Ready Acala approved by the San Joaquin Valley Cotton Board. However, some producers suffered severe lint dockage last season because of seed coat fragments. It was a spotty problem.
“It did not affect everyone, but for those who had the problem it was serious,” Van Skike said.
CPCSD held grower/ginner meetings during the summer that will continue through the fall to detail some of the possible causes for the seed coat fragment problem in hopes of minimizing it this season.
CPCSD captured 55 percent of the valley's 615,000 upland acres this season. Its varieties accounted for 70 percent of the Acala acreage.
Good season despite slow start
It became a good season, despite a slow start. Average yield is projected at 1,366 pounds for upland and 1,271 for Pima. Insect and weed pressure has been light and boll retention high, taking some of the sting out of some of the poorest cotton prices in decades.
CPCSD board vice chairman and Tipton, Calif., producer Richard Stadden's crop is typical of the valley. “We have a good crop, but like one grower said with these prices “so what?” he said.
There is even more uncertainty next year. For the first time in many years CPCSD's seed saving committee put a range on its estimated acreage for 2002 and it is a wide one — 860,000 to as little as only 689,000 acres.
“There is a lot of uncertainty over price, the timing and the amount of help in the new federal farm bill and probably the most important factor, water availability,” said Van Skike. “There were farmers who reduced their cotton or eliminated it all together this year because of a lack of water.”
The price is so low, that there is uncertainty about 2002 acreage in countries like Brazil, Australia and even China where the value of the American dollar puts them at an advantage in the world market.
“The world supply is so large and prices so low that even those places cannot afford to grow cotton at today's prices, even with the high value of the dollar,” he said.
Van Skike expects 2002 cotton acreage to be limited to producers who can get financing in 2002, have water and can gain significant benefit from the farm program.
CPCSD will continue to focus on quality and yield in its breeding program with transgenic traits taking a secondary role.
“We are committed to developing new varieties containing new technology rather than putting new technology into old varieties,” said CPCSD board chairman Don Cameron of Fresno County, Calif.
The Shafter, Calif., based company is developing a new line of Pimas toward that goal. Oakley said he has a line of Pimas that are showing late leaf senescence and earlier boll opening.
Three-year target for release
“We want Pimas to stay green like the Acalas and not collapse like the varieties coming out of Arizona. We think that collapse is detrimental to quality and want to avoid that in our new varieties,” said Oakley.
Cameron said CPCSD's board has set a target of three years for the release of a Roundup-resistant Pima.
CPCSD's new Ultima variety is another page in that desire for quality. Van Skike said this Acala's high quality fiber, almost 1 1/4-inch long, is gaining the attention of both international and domestic mills who see it as an alternative to more expensive Pima in some situation and in blends.
In earlier tests at Cotton Incorporated, Van Skike said Ultima lint produced high quality 60-count yarns and it is being tested now in 80 to 100 count yarns.
“We are looking at it both as saw-ginned and roller-ginned,” said Van Skike.
“It is a high-yielding cotton, as good as Maxxa and it may bring a lint premium,” said. “And there is a Roundup Ready Ultima under development.” Earlier CPCSD released a high-quality variety that commanded a premium. It was Prema, but it lacked yield to gain grower acceptance.
Van Skike said CPCSD's work with the transgenic technology would continue to focus on traits reducing grower input — like lygus resistance and reduced water and nitrogen input. “The Bollgard II is supposed to have a wider worm control spectrum and there could be benefits there to the valley,” he said.
“Our most immediate focus is on improving the economic return by reducing input costs,” said Van Skike.
Right now the only hope of economic return from cotton is in the form of government checks since prices are so low.
“Money cannot buy good farm policy,” Gaylon Booker told the CPCSD's annual meeting. “But that is the only thing we have right now.”
The new farm bill developed by the House Agricultural Committee may seem to be a convoluted document, but it is that way because of World Trade Organization treaty constraints.
Nevertheless, Booker said the House bill offers a badly needed cotton safety net. Of late, budget and income projections have reportedly derailed that $73.5 billion package, but Booker said U.S. Rep. Larry Combest of Texas, one of the chief architects of the House bill, is proceeding with the bill as if the money is an entitlement package.
Booker said the House package will find tough sledding in the Senate, where there has been some foot dragging. The disappointing budget numbers have sped up the process there.
“Our hope is that a new farm bill will be passed by Congress this year,” said Booker. If it is not, new budget numbers next February may mean even less money for cash-strapped producers.