The storied Shafter Cotton Research Station in California’s San Joaquin Valley is not closing after all.

The San Joaquin Valley Quality Cotton Growers Association, a group of some of the most prominent growers/leaders in the valley, has stepped up to lease the 80-acre facility in Shafter, Calif., and manage it as a research site.

The Shafter station has been the focal point of San Joaquin Valley cotton industry since 1922. For decades, the Acala cottons that made the San Joaquin Valley famous worldwide for their quality came from the station. Production research for cotton and other crops has long been conducted there as well.

USDA announced last year that the station was on a closure list. The industry ramped up considerable political pressure to keep it open. Despite those efforts, the department formally announced in January that its Agricultural Research Service (ARS) would terminate operations at Shafter and move a half-dozen scientists stationed there.

That was a particularly devastating blow since two scientists at Shafter had been focusing on finding a solution to the problem of Fusarium Race 4, a soil born disease that has been called the most significant threat the SJV cotton industry has ever faced.

ARS is expected to complete the shutdown there by mid-June, when the association will take management of the facilities.

However, the San Joaquin Valley Quality Cotton Association has already stepped in and has leased about 50 acres of land on the station from Kern County, which owns the property, according to Greg F. Palla, executive vice president and general manager of the association. Once ARS moves out, the association will take over management of the buildings and laboratories.

Palla said an association member farms nearby and he will produce 50 acres of cotton on the property this year with net proceeds going toward operation of the station.

The agreement with the county will allow SJV Quality Cotton Growers to control the facility, manage facility operations, and determine who will be entitled to conduct research at the facility.

Strong interest

Several groups have already contacted the association indicating “strong interest” in conducting research at the multi-million dollar Shafter facility. These include University of California, Cotton Incorporated, the garlic research advisory board and APIS 4, a national beekeeping research effort.

Palla is particularly pleased with the interest from Cotton Incorporated in funding continued Fusarium Race 4 research at the station. He also said Kevin McCarthy, local Kern County congressman, is trying to convince USDA keep an ARS scientist on the station to continue Fusarium research.

All private agricultural groups also will be welcome, added Palla.

The Shafter Research Station will be able to operate entirely through funding sources provided by research projects conducted there by way of facility user fees, says Palla.

SJV Quality Cotton Growers is creating a committee to oversee the management of the station.

“It is hoped that this new arrangement will serve as an exemplary model of successful private sector facility management through which the industry and public at large will continue to benefit,” Palla said.

He expects the bulk of the research projects to begin in 2013.

For additional information, interested parties can contact SJV Quality Cotton Growers Association at (661) 377-2490.

hcline@farmpress.com