California cotton acreage, already on track for an anticipated sharp acreage increase next season, received an added boost with the announcement that Roundup Ready Flex Pima will be marketed to San Joaquin Valley producers in 2010.

Earl Williams, president of the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations, said in his round of gin meetings and field days, as well as discussions with his board members, that 300,000 acres is a reasonable estimate of cotton acreage next year in California. If realized, it would represent a one-third increase in cotton acreage over 2009.

However, estimates have been nudged toward the 400,000-acre mark, doubling this year’s statewide acreage. Stronger cotton prices coupled with weakening prices for alternatives like alfalfa, wheat and tomatoes are sparking talk of a big cotton 2010 comeback.

The announcement that Dow AgroSciences and its PhytoGen Seed Co. division had reached an agreement with Monsanto to market Pima cotton with the Roundup Ready Flex gene is only adding to the optimism.

The herbicide-resistant technology has been available in Pima for several years, but Monsanto refused to allow it to be marketed because the trait-gene seed has not been approved by international regulatory agencies. The lint does not require regulatory clearance to be marketed; only the seed.

The California cotton industry last year proposed a stewardship program to track the seed from the gin to its end use, but it was not successful in getting Monsanto’s approval to sell RF Pima last season. A similar program was proposed to allow Roundup Ready Flex for 2010, and Monsanto approved it this fall, well in advance of next spring’s planting season.

While Monsanto pursues international regulatory approval for the trait cottonseed, the company has accepted the California cotton industry’s stewardship plan, which requires every seed handler from growers to the gins to the seed crusher to sign a stewardship agreement that limits distribution of the cotton seed to the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

“Cotton farmers have told us that the Genuity Roundup Ready Flex trait is a great value to them,” said Tom Schaefer, Monsanto cotton traits marketing lead, in explaining why Monsanto agreed to the unusual stewardship program before international regulatory clearance has been achieved.

Dow AgroSciences has one Pima variety (PhytoGen PHY 805 RF) with the Genuity Roundup Ready Flex trait to sell sale under the stewardship program for 2010. It is a selection from PhytoGen’s very popular PHY 800, non-biotech variety.

“We are so pleased to be able to offer this new Pima variety to California growers,” said Duane Canfield, market specialist for Dow AgroSciences. “The Genuity Roundup Ready Flex trait in Pima will give California cotton growers all of the weed control benefits in Pima they have enjoyed in Acala.”

This stewardship breakthrough was achieved through the efforts of the California Cotton Growers and Ginners Association and its member gins, the National Cotton Council, and American Cotton Producers Association, as well as J.G. Boswell Co.

Cannon Michael of Bowles Farming Co. in Los Banos, Calif., said the approval of Roundup Flex Pima will have a big impact on the industry.

“Cotton growers were already pretty excited about cotton for the coming season. The outlook looks pretty good and even better with this announcement of Roundup Flex Pima,” said Michael.

About 75 percent of the California upland acreage is Roundup Flex cotton varieties.

“Hand weeding bills are running $90 to $100 per acre on Pima,” Michael said. At least some of this is due to cotton rotating with processing tomatoes. “In the last few years tomatoes have really widened the weed spectrum we have to deal with from leftover weed seed in the field and weed seed in irrigation water,” said Michael.

“When we can save that kind of money with a herbicide tolerant cotton, it is pretty important. Roundup Flex Acala has been huge for us in cost saving, so we are very familiar with the technology.”

“There was a huge crop of tomatoes this season and everyone is anticipating a pullback in acreage and prices. Alfalfa prices have also not been very attractive.

“Everyone is looking for an alternative and those who used to grow cotton like cotton and want to grow it again,” said Michael.

Cotton marketers are aggressively seeking 2010 Pima acreage, quoting prices of $1.10 to $1.15 per pound.

Williams said Pima sales have picked up significantly in the past few weeks. “China is back in the market big time and it looks like most all of the 2008 crop will be sold by the end of the marketing year,” he says.

“Cotton merchants are getting real creative trying to restart the Pima industry. They are taking some chances,” Michael said.

“It is exciting to see things turn around for cotton. It has been depressing to be a cotton farmer for the past few years,” he said.

Eric Hansen, part of the Hansen Ranches family operation in Corcoran, Calif., said the introduction of Roundup Flex Pima will have a big impact because it reduces weed control costs.

“Cotton was already poised for a big turnaround in 2010 because alternative crops like alfalfa, corn and wheat are not paying very well,” said Hansen.

Hansen, like Michael, was actively involved in getting Monsanto to agree to allow the marketing of the herbicide resistant Pima.

“We are glad a lot of hard work has come to fruition,” said Hansen.

For cotton growers, the turnaround in acreage anticipated for 2010 is particularly good news, since it helps maintain the infrastructure for the industry.

“It was getting increasingly difficult to maintain cotton’s infrastructure as the acreage kept going down,” said Hansen.

“I am very enthusiastic about what I see and hear at gin meetings and field days about cotton coming back,” said Williams. “The water issue still hangs over the West Side of the Valley, but the improvement in prices is bringing some optimism back to cotton.”

Williams said the Pima/Upland acreage split likely will remain 70 percent Pima/30 percent Acala in 2010, and could be even higher for Pima. “I have had growers tell me for several years the lack of herbicide resistant technology has been holding them back on planting Pima in some areas,” Williams noted. “The announcement from Monsanto should open up more ground for Pima.”

“Overall, things are lining up pretty good for California cotton in 2010,” stated Williams.

email: hcline@farmpress.com