Happy days are here again for the cotton industry as farmers and ginners in Arizona take advantage of higher prices and increased acreage to make changes and improvements in their operations.

Dwayne Alford, manager of the Yuco Gin II in Yuma, Ariz., predicts the dual gin could produce 55,000 to 60,000 bales of upland and Pima cotton this next season - possibly an all-time record. This compares to 39,000 bales last season.

Alford is making improvements to gin equipment including repairs to a Continental 730 press which is “worn, leaks, and leans to the side.” The press has produced more than one million bales.

“We are preparing the gin to make sure it’s completely ready,” Alford said. “The increased volume and revenue allows us to make major repairs which is more difficult to achieve with a lower bale volume,” Alford said.

Gin trucks haul the majority of the cotton from the field to the gin. With the area’s large produce industry, the cotton is moved quickly out of the fields. The ginning season typically begins in early September.

Alford originally planned to order two new trucks and sell two older ones. With the higher bale volume, Alford will still order the new trucks but keep the older trucks for at least another year.

Alford will gin more cotton this year grown in neighboring Imperial County, California. Pima cotton is brought in from the Vicksburg-Tonopah area located northeast of Yuma.

“If the cotton industry has several good years, Arizona gins can get in good shape for the next five to 10 years. This is pretty important,” Alford said. “Even if cotton production declines later, our updated gins and trucks should carry us on if things get a little thin again.”

Grower Greg Wuertz of Coolidge, Ariz. is growing more cotton and changing how the crop is grown. Wuertz, owner of Fast Track Farms, increased cotton acres from 600 to 700 cotton acres last year to 1,000 acres this year. Two hundred acres will be planted after barley. Wuertz will grow less alfalfa and grain. He leases the ground from the City of Mesa.

“Cotton is better than the alternatives,” Wuertz said. “I thought about more alfalfa, barley, and corn silage – cotton was the safer and better deal.”

Wuertz, who has agronomy and plant genetic degrees, changed his cultural techniques for cotton this year. He applied a pre-plant herbicide and planted on the flat using borders instead of rows.

“I think it will save water and trips in the field,” Wuertz said. He also increased minimum tillage.

To reduce phosphate costs, Wuertz applied the food-grade phosphate Solugrow which he said is more readily available to the plant, plus contains zinc and magnesium.

Wuertz believes common tillage and herbicide practices have reduced essential bacteria in the soil. He added several organic bacteria products to re-inoculate the soil.

He also reduced his cotton seed rate from 50,000/acre to 43,000/acre. He planted Stoneville, Deltapine, and Fibermax varieties.

Cotton press improvements and another module truck are on Butch Gladden’s to-do list as the manager of the Pinal Gin in Stanfield, Ariz. The extra truck will increase the fleet size to four.

“We will add another pump to speed up the cycle time to press the bale up,” Gladden said. “We hope to reduce the cycle time by six seconds which could produce 10 more bales per hour.”

Gladden ginned upland 37,000 bales last year. This year’s projection is 50,000 to 55,000 bales.

The Pinal Gin typically opens in mid-October with the last bale pressed in mid-January. The gin may open two weeks earlier this year.

Gladden has served as a gin manager for 35 years. In 1974, about 100 cotton gins were located in Arizona. Today the number is about 16. He is thrilled with higher cotton prices and increased acreage.

Cotton prices benefit all

“It’s good for everyone - the farmer, the ginner, and the overall economy because farmers will have money to buy newer equipment,” Gladden said. “It will have a trickle-down effect for the whole economy.”

Farmer Dan Thelander of the Tempe Farming Company, Tempe, Ariz., farms about 2,500 acres south of Maricopa in upland cotton, barley, alfalfa, wheat, and guayule. Another 1,500 acres is leased to a cantaloupe grower.

Thelander planted 600 acres in cotton two years ago, 1,100 acres last year, and 1,600 acres this spring.

“We took out some alfalfa earlier than usual to try to capitalize on cotton prices,” Thelander said. “We’re going to double crop cotton behind barley which we haven’t done for many years. With these prices, we are trying it again.”

Thelander planted the Deltapine varieties DP 1044 B2RF and DP 0935 B2RF.

On higher cotton prices, Thelander said, “It’s definitely exciting but it also adds a little more stress. I hope we are at a new plateau where prices don’t fall way down since our cotton production costs are north of 75 cents per pound. With the concern over possible cuts in the government cotton program, I hope prices remain good.”

Thelander’s crop typically yields 3.25 bales of cotton per acre. About half of the total acreage is in subsurface drip. Cotton under drip requires about 4.5 acre feet of water per crop compared to traditional irrigation at 5 to 5.5 acre feet.

Greg Sugaski, general manager of Olam operations in Arizona, says most Arizona gins operate a 100-day season.

Ginner Dwayne Alford concluded, “It is exciting – there is a buzz. It’s amazing what $1 cotton will do. We live another day.”

The cotton growers and ginners shared their ideas during the joint annual meetings of the Arizona Cotton Ginners Association and the Arizona Cotton Growers Association in Carefree, Ariz. in April.

cblake@farmpress.com