Summer temperatures in November opened the door for a very rapid harvest of California’s 307,000 acres of cotton.

The thermometer hit near a record 80-degree mark the first week of November. Timing could not have been better.

It had been a struggle getting to the harvest point for the 2010 crop with a cool wet spring delaying the start and a relatively mild summer pushing the crop, especially Pima, later into the year.

It was the latest start of cotton picking that veteran cotton producers Charlie Fanucchi of Kern County and John Pucheu of Fresno County can recall.

“Our Pima crop looked more like a green silage crop Sept. 1 than cotton; it was so green and lush,” said Fanucchi, who said he defoliated three times. “We had to to get better grades.”

He started picking around Oct. 25.

Pucheu started a few days ago.

Growers did not want to wait that long, but had no choice. “The cotton was not ready for harvest on time,” said Pucheu.

Yields and quality

Ernie Schroeder Jr., president of cotton merchandiser Jess Smith and Sons, Bakersfield, Calif., said “Yields and quality have been a little better than expected."

“However, yields are all over the board from a bale and a half to three and a half bales.  It has been a very, very strange year. Many growers, however, are a bit surprised at their yields.”

The major of the San Joaquin Valley cotton crop is Pima and rain can be devastating on the premium extra long staple lint. Growers reported rain prior to harvest, but it was generally light and did not damage the cotton in the field.

The latest crop estimate from USDA/NASS pegs American Pima cotton production in California at 450,000 bales from 184,000 acres. Upland cotton is forecast at 380,000 bales from 123,000 bales.

Pima yields are estimated to average 1,174 pounds of lint per acre while Upland yields are estimated to come it at an average of 1,483 pounds per acre.

Growers are pushing the fortuitous harvest window as hard as they can since the weather forecast indicates cooling during the next week; lows in the 30s are possible. There were reports of light fog the first week of November as winter humidity conditions began to kick in.

Growers must wait until the cotton dries before it can be picked and that often delays the start of the harvest day.

Pima prices strong

Pucheu and Fanucchi said yields are coming in below their averages, but they are happy to efficiently gather what they can at this stage of the 2010 season.

“Yields are off some, but strong Pima prices will help offset that,” Fanucchi said.

“We will second pick some of the Pima. The market warrants it,” said Pucheu.

It looks like SJV growers have dodged a machine gun full of bullets. Demand has never been greater for cotton, especially Pima. There is no carryover and mills are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the first 2010 Pima bales. Had the weather turned nasty jeopardizing quality, it could have wrecked the Pima market.

Schroeder said if the warm weather holds, the 307,000 acre crop should be mostly out of the field by Nov. 15, well ahead of Thanksgiving.

Two months ago many California growers thought they’d be picking cotton rather than eating turkey on Nov. 25 because the season was so late. Now it looks like they will have their drumstick and eat it too.

hcline@farmpress.com