With the Western cotton harvest just around the corner, a veteran Buttonwillow, Calif., family eyeballs at least a 3.5 bale-per-acre crop with typical San Joaquin Valley Acala fiber quality thanks to another good growing season.

“Overall, our Acala Upland cotton looks like a good crop,” Jason Selvidge said in early September. “I don’t know if it’s a record breaker but it is above average.”

Selvidge, 40, is a partner with the Buttonwillow Land and Cattle Company in Kern County. Besides cotton, the family grows carrots, potatoes, wheat, alfalfa, corn (for silage), pistachios, and almonds. The operation is invested in a Texas cattle feeding operation. Selvidge’s father, Wes Selvidge, believes at least one field could generate 4 bales.

“I think this could be my best crop ever,” said the elder Selvidge, a 42-year cotton veteran. The farm has a 50-year history in cotton.

Wes and Jason are fourth- and fifth-generation Buttonwillow producers, respectively. The family hopes to send the first picker to the field by the second week of October.

The Buttonwillow Land and Cattle Company includes the Selvidge, Tracy, and Frey families — all descendents of William Tracy and Fannie Rowlee Tracy. The families held a 150th farm birthday party this year attended by “3,500 of their closest friends.”

As Jason drove his pick-up at a crawl through the cotton fields to survey the crop, he noted it was off to a good start.

“We waited for good soil temperatures in the spring and planted in mid April,” Selvidge explained. “It was a timely planting.”

Cool, moderate spring and early summer temperatures suggested the crop could be late, but warmer summer temperatures led to on-time maturity.

“The crop loaded up fairly well,” Selvidge said. “The heat wave from late July into August knocked off a little of the top crop. By then, most of the crop was set on the plants and seemed to hold on fairly well.” Pix was applied to keep plant growth under check.

The farm’s 800 acres of cotton is planted in the Acala NemX variety. NemX was developed by California Planting Cotton Seed Distributors (CPCSD) and first commercially sold in California in1995. Bayer CropScience later purchased CPSCD.

The Buttonwillow Land and Cattle Company grew NemX for seed increase for CPCSD for several years.

“We made a deal with CPCSD to grow the seed increase at no cost for one year and then buy all of the seed from the increase,” Selvidge said. “We aimed for a five-year supply and actually harvested an eight-year supply due to good growing conditions.”

The certified seed has remained in cold storage since. The seed was planted the last six years. A two-year supply remains.

Selvidge chuckled, “NemX is the most expensive seed in the world since we keep it in cold storage to maintain seed quality.”

NemX investment

The families’ investment in NemX is based on the variety’s good-quality cotton and yield. Yet perhaps more important is NemX’s resistance to the southern root knot nematode (RKN) soil insect, Meloidogyne incognita. NemX is a non host for RKN.

According to the University of California’s IPM Online website, the southern RKN is a microscopic roundworm which attacks the cotton plant’s root system resulting in galls (overgrowths). Galls interrupt the ability of roots to absorb water and nutrients.

At the Buttonwillow farm, NemX is planted in rotation with carrots, potatoes, and wheat. NemX lowers the RKN population which protects the vegetables, especially the carrots.

“NemX has kept nematodes from getting a foothold in the field. It breaks their life cycle,” Selvidge said. “Since we switched to NemX, we have not had significant root knot nematode damage in carrots.”

The farm follows a three-year crop rotation. Fields are planted in a spring potato crop harvested in the late spring to early-to-mid summer. Carrots are then planted followed by a late November to mid-January harvest window. NemX cotton is planted in the spring. After harvest, winter wheat is grown for a June harvest. The cycle is repeated the following year.

“Carrots and potatoes are high-value crops which on average gross about $5,000 per acre,” Selvidge said. “Potatoes can generally tolerate a two-year rotation, but carrots are more disease sensitive.”

NemX cotton is not a big money maker for Selvidge compared to many other crops today which fetch higher prices. For example, Selvidge says three-bales of cotton sold at $1 per pound would net about $1,500 per acre. NemX yields about one-half bale per acre compared to current cotton varieties.

It’s the long-term benefit that NemX cotton brings to the overall farming operation.

“Losing half a bale of cotton is not as significant as losing a carrot field which has a much higher per acre value,” Selvidge said. “If you put a disk to half a carrot field due to nematode damage you just paid for a lot of cotton.”

The farm is looking at other cotton varieties, even other crops, for when the NemX supply is exhausted. “We are still exploring our options. For now, we are sticking with cotton and probably will if cotton prices head higher.”

Speaking of prices, Selvidge is confident that cotton price futures, at about 75 cents per pound at press time, will soon gain upward strength.

“I believe cotton will go on a price run sometime next year and will catch up with the price of other farm commodities in the world.”

Selvidge gins the crop at Farmer’s Cooperative Gin Inc. in Buttonwillow. The crop is marketed by Jess Smith and Sons in Bakersfield.