California's San Joaquin Valley cotton acreage should take a sharp rebound next season with the new farm bill in place.

Bill Van Skike California Planting Cotton Seed Distributors' (CPCSD) president and CPCSD's seed saving committee estimate SJV Pima and upland acreage will reach 815,000 acres, a 25 percent increase over this season's meager 653,000 acres, the lowest valley acreage in 50 years.

This includes about 190,000 acres of Pima, a decline of about 15,000 acres from this season and 625,000 acres of Acala and “California Uplands,” mostly the former. This years SJV Acala/upland acreage was about 450,000 acres.

Van Skike made the “crystal ball” 2003 estimate during CPCSD's annual field day recently at its research farm near Shafter, Calif. A year ago at the same meeting an 875,000 acreage estimate was given for SJV 2002 acreage. However, uncertainty about the new federal farm bill trimmed that considerably through the planting season.

A sharp acreage drop like that made for a “tough year” for CPCSD, but Van Skike said CPCSD, the largest cotton seed supplier in the valley, successfully marketed its oversupply of saved planting seed and is in “good shape” ending the 2002 season.

Expect good year

“We are looking forward to a good year in 2003,” said Van Skike. CPCSD will have at least two new varieties to offer next season, including its first proprietary Pima.

Van Skike described seed distributor's 2003 estimate as “conservative.” Some are predicting acreage could reach 900,000 to 975,000 acres. It is early and perhaps the biggest unknown, the water supply for agriculture, will not be answered until next spring.

Sierra RR is the name of CPCSD's newest variety. It is an Acala finishing its third year of testing in the San Joaquin Valley Cotton Board (SJVCB) trials this season. Tested as C-104, it topped board on-farm trials last year, with a mean yield of 1,629 pounds per acre. By comparison, Phytogen 72, one of the most popular varieties in the valley, yielded 1,583 pounds while the fast-fading valley “standard” Maxxa yielded just 1,491 pounds.

Three of the five top yielders in the SJVCB 2001 trial were CPCSD varieties, but for now C-104 or Sierra RR is the only one certain to be petitioned for release as an approved Acala.

Seed supply will be limited in 2003 since only 1,000 acres of seed were produced this season, but John Palmer, CPCSD's vice president of sales and marketing, said supplies should be adequate for it to be tried across the valley by many growers.

Seed coat fragments

One of its big selling points is that it has reduced seed coat fragments, a stigma that has been attached to CPCSD's biggest-selling variety, Riata RR.

E-104 is the experimental number of CPCSD's new Pima. It will be marketed under a yet undetermined brand name, according to Palmer and Van Skike.

Hal Moser, CPCSD's ELS breeder who also oversees the company's transgenic program, said the new Pima is earlier maturing than S-7. “What really sets it apart, however, is its seedling vigor,” he said. It also has reduced leaf senescence or foliar decline, a relatively common malady with SJV Pima production, particularly in the southern valley.

E-104 is expected yield about 50 pound more lint than S-7.

Moser is working on development of several transgenic cottons, including Buctril-resistant BXN Pimas. Many of his experimental transgenic Acala lines are brand new varieties, a departure from current transgenic breeding schemes where transgenic genes are inserted into existing varieties.

“We have a lot of new transgenic things coming down the line,” said Steve Oakley, CPCSD's vice-president of research.

In two to three years that could include the new Roundup Ready “flex” gene, which will allow producers to treat for weeds over the top of the plants with Roundup beyond cotton's four leaf stage, as is now the cutoff point for a Roundup application. In research trials, cotton containing the new Flex gene has proven safe from Roundup damage up to the 14-leaf stage.

Good lint quality

Lint quality has been a hallmark of CPCSD's breeding effort and one of its existing varieties, Ultima, is gaining special mill attention, said Van Skike. Roller ginned, it is bringing 11 cents per pound more for producers than Acala varieties, said Palmer. CPCSD is working with Cotton Incorporated in developing this cotton for high-end mill use, both for saw-ginned and roller-ginned lint.

This could end up with a branded fabric using Ultima cotton.

One of CPCSD's experimental cottons, C-201, is in the second year of SJVCB testing, and according to Palmer it has fiber quality equal to Ultima with yields equal to Phytogen 72. It may be released with the Roundup Ready “Flex” gene, he added.

e-mail: hcline@primediabusiness.com