California cotton farmer Don Cameron is pleased with the good mix of warm and hot daytime temperatures and cool nights in July which increased his odds for a normal 2011 crop.

The temperatures came on the heels of cool spring weather which delayed cotton planting by several weeks across California and Arizona. The elongated spring caused Cameron to replant about 15 percent of his cotton acreage. Cameron’s overall crop is now catching up though still behind about 10 days in heat units.

“We had hot weather in early July that helped the plant develop better structure and catch up,” said Cameron, general manager of Terranova Ranch in Helm in Fresno County. “During the last two weeks of July we saw a nice bloom and good fruit load coming. We now have the opportunity to make a good crop.”

Cameron’s acreage includes 600 acres of American Pima extra long staple cotton and 250 acres of Acala short staple cotton. Most of the Pima acreage is planted in the Deltapine 340 Pima variety. Cameron has 190 acres of Deltapine 353 Pima grown organically. The Acala acreage is planted in PhytoGen’s 725 RF and 755 WRF varieties.

Cameron’s Pima yield estimates in early August ranged from 2 to 2.25 bales per acre and up to 3 bales per acre for early Pima plantings.

“Considering the weather year we’ve had I’d be real happy with those yields,” Cameron said. The 30-year farming veteran will gin the crop through the Air-Way Gin in Huron.

Cameron forward contracted 90 percent of his crop. He nailed down a $2-plus per pound price for Pima and about $1.50 per pound for Acala for roller ginning.

“I’m very happy with the price. We hit close to the market high.”

Pest and disease issues have been minor so far. Cameron sprayed once for lygus with a Carbine-Belay insecticide mix with good results.

Irrigation water is delivered by furrow, sprinkler, and buried drip; about one-third each.

Terranova Farms also grows processing tomatoes, dehydrator onions, fresh onions, wine grapes, almonds, pistachios, walnuts, lettuce seed, alfalfa, corn for silage, olives for olive oil, winter and summer carrots, prunes, and seed crops.

Cotton farmer Tim Cox of Coxco LLC grows about 800 acres of long-season Upland cotton (Deltapine 164 B2RF) in Blythe, Calif. (Riverside County) and in Poston, Ariz. (La Paz County). His crop mix also includes alfalfa and occasional plantings of durum wheat.

Crop stress

“My cotton crop is about average – not great and not bad,” Cox said Aug. 1. “We were behind on heat units due to the cool spring but lately we’ve had too many heat units resulting in crop stress.”

Cox planted the crop in early to mid March. The hotter July weather advanced Cox’s crop from seven to 10 days behind in heat units down to about three. The heat crop stress level in late July alternated between stress Level One (crop temperature between 82.4 degrees and 86 degrees) to Level Two (higher than 86 degrees).

Cox estimated the potential yield at four to five bales per acre. Crop yields have consistently increased over the last five to seven years.

“The high yields are probably tied to the varieties, heavy Pix (plant growth regulator) and fertilizer use, and improved crop management,” Cox said.

Cox will gin the crop at Modern Ginning Company in Blythe.  

Cox’s crop was beginning to cut out. The fertilizers CAN-17 and UN-32 were applied at 10 gallons each per acre.

Due to the recent heat stress, Cox shortened the five to six day flood irrigation schedule by one day, applying four inches of water per shot.

Pest pressure this year includes the always problematic whitefly in this low desert area. Cox had just started the second spray. A third spray could be necessary. Spider mites have also been heavy.

Cox expects to harvest from before Thanksgiving through late December. Cox is a second-generation farmer. His father Richard Cox started the farm in 1985.

Higher cotton prices spurred Bowles Farming Company in Los Banos (Merced County) to increase acreage from 3,000 acres to 5,000 acres this year. Varieties include about 4,000 acres in Upland Acala - mostly PhytoGen 725 RF. The 1,000 acres of long staple cotton is a mix of Pima (PhytoGen 805RF) and Hazera 195.

The company also grows processing tomatoes, alfalfa, wheat, melons, and fresh market tomatoes.

“Our cotton crop is looking a lot better now,” said Cannon Michael, the company’s vice president. “We had a long protracted spring of cool weather that was never cool enough to hurt the crop but lacked enough heat units to jumpstart it.”

“With the July heat, the crop is looking better than I would have thought. It’s improving and picking up a lot of blooms. We have the opportunity to make a good crop.”

Michael estimates yields near the farm’s five-year average of 3.25 to 3.5 bales per acre for Acala and 2.75 to 3 bales for Pima. The harvest window could be delayed seven to 10 days.

Michael, a sixth-generation California farmer said, “2011 should be a decent season. It likely will not be a record-breaking crop but I think we’ll be pleasantly surprised by it.”

Race 4 FOV concerns

Michael shared the finding of Race 4 FOV (Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. Vasinfectum) - Fusarium for short – in several fields on the farm. The fungus also has been found in the surrounding area. Race 4 FOV devastates most Pima cotton varieties.

“This is a concern for the entire (cotton) industry and is something that we are deeply concerned about,” said Michael, chairman of the California Cotton Growers Association.

“I’ve been studying high resolution aerial imagery of our farm from recent years and I can see there may have been spots that we missed last year,” Michael explained. “They were small, isolated spots. This developed over time in our fields and we just missed it.”

Michael’s Race 4 find was confirmed by UC Davis.

Meanwhile, California ginners are gearing up for an exciting season. Gin manager Mike Hooper of Farmers Cooperative Gin, Inc. in Buttonwillow (Kern County) will gin about 30 percent more acres this season (30,000 acres total). The acreage is evenly split between Pima and Acala cottons.

Hooper expects to start ginning in earnest the third week of October; two weeks later than usual. Farmers Cooperative Gin has two operating gin facilities in Buttonwillow.

“One is currently being converted from a 40-bale-per-hour saw gin to a 20-bale-per-hour roller plant due to the continued move toward roller ginning in California,” Hooper said. “The other is a 40-bale-per-hour combination saw-roller gin which will focus on roller production with the exception of approximately 5,000 bales of planting seed cotton and cotton too short to justify roller processing.”

Stan Creelman, manager, Mid-Valley Cotton Growers, Inc. in Tulare (Tulare County), expects to begin ginning the week of Oct. 17; about two and a half weeks behind normal. The co-op operates a saw gin in Tulare and two roller gins west of Tulare. 

The cooperative’s big news is the reopening this fall of its saw gin in Tipton which was closed for four years.

“We will reopen the Tipton gin due to increased cotton acres and to gin cotton in a timely manner,” Creelman said. “Re-opening the Tipton gin is very significant for us.”

Creelman offered these ideas to cotton growers to help maximize the ginning process and protect cotton quality.

1 – Eliminate contamination in the cotton module. Remove plastic bags and trash from the field before harvest. Acala and Pima cottons are premium cotton. The mills expect premium quality.

2 - Pick the cotton as dry as possible. Do not be in a big hurry to harvest. Try to avoid picking early in the morning or late in the evening. Wet cotton in the module causes problems.

3 – Good plant defoliation is important. Cleaner cotton helps the ginning process and protects the cotton grade.  

cblake@farmpress.com