VISALIA, Calif. — The San Joaquin Valley Cotton Board has legitimized the most widely planted Pima cotton variety in the San Joaquin Valley and gave its blessing to a yet unnamed new Acala cotton that may never see commercial production.

It turned down a third Acala.

At its spring meeting here, the board made Phytogen 800 an "approved" Pima cotton variety, even though almost 50 percent of the San Joaquin Valley’s 215,000 acres of Pima was planted to the Dow AgroSciences variety last season.

As an "experimental" variety last year, Phytogen 800 lint should have been discount priced as the marketing structure has been for any non-approved cotton. However, it was not discounted. The biggest Pima producer in the valley, J.G. Boswell Co. of Corcoran, Calif., planted the majority of Phytogen 800 and announced early on it would not be sold at a discount simply because it was an "experimental" variety. Boswell is a partner in Phytogen Seeds with Dow AgroSciences.

Phytogen 800 averaged lint yields of about 1,630 pounds per acre were an increase of 200 pounds per acre compared to the S-7 standard, which was planted on less than 1 percent of the valley’s Pima acreage last season.

The new Pima is also tolerant to fusarium wilt, a spreading problem in the valley. The new variety showed improved fiber and yarn quality characteristics in nearly all categories, according to Tulare County cotton grower Ron Clark, who chairs the board’s quality committee.

Widely adapted

It is a widely adapted variety and acreage should increase significantly this year when the valley acreage could go well past 250,000 acres if planting weather is good. Phytogen 800 seed is reportedly sold out this year as are many of the proprietary varieties from Deltapine. California Planting Cotton Seed Distributors has only limited Pima supplies available.

The board also gave approved status to a new Acala variety, C-702 from California Planting Cotton Seed Distributors (CPCSD), which also showed significant yield increases while meeting or exceeding the current quality standard. However, there is no C-702 seed available this season, and CPCSD has not named it.

C-702 Acala variety averaged about 200 pounds per acre more lint, a 10 percent increase over the standard Maxxa, which like S-7 is hardly planted. Less than 3 percent of the valley was in Maxxa last season.

In addition to high yields, C-702 outperformed the current standard in fiber strength and uniformity as well as most other quality aspects, according to Clark.

The board rejected another CPCSD variety, C-402, for release.

The new varieties are approved for 2005 commercial release in the six-county San Joaquin Valley Quality Cotton District, which includes Kern, Kings, Tulare, Fresno, Madera and Merced counties.

"Valley cotton growers continue to see improved yields and quality because of a board testing program that holds a high standard for release," said SJVCB board chairman and Kings County cotton farmer Bill Stone said. "We are focused on making sure all candidates entering the board’s trial are good potential candidates for release."

Keeps standards

The board also voted at its March meeting to keep Maxxa and S-7 as the industry standards for 2005.

"We have to look very carefully at dozens of quality parameters along with yield data in establishing our standard. Our overriding goal is to be sure we are approving and releasing varieties that raise the quality bar," Stone said. "Even though Maxxa and S-7 are no longer planted in the San Joaquin Valley, they still provide consistent high quality, and we don’t want to open the door to reducing that quality."

At the March meeting, the board approved 20 new Acala varieties and four new Pima varieties for the first year of testing in 2005. A total of 36 Acalas and 10 Pimas are currently under review in the research program.

Some of those Acala varieties incorporate the latest Roundup Ready Flex technology. Roundup Ready Flex allows growers to control weeds by spraying Roundup over the top of plants at a much later growth stage than previous Roundup Ready technology, providing growers with more timing flexibility.

The board has been criticized in the past for its quality testing program delaying the introduction of the new cotton biotechnology traits like herbicide and insect resistance into the San Joaquin Valley.

Last year the first of what is expected to be a wave of new Roundup Ready Flex Acala varieties began their journey through the three-year SJVCB testing program.

The technology has not been fully sanctioned by the federal government and to test these transgenic varieties last year required more work for the variety testing program because they were closely regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA required, for instance, that all seed, cotton and gin trash produced from regulated cotton be destroyed. Buffer zones also had to be established around regulated cotton fields to prevent cross contamination.

"The board went to great effort to include regulated cottons so we can expedite getting this new technology to San Joaquin Valley growers," Stone said.

More Flex varieties

The only Flex variety in the 2004 trial was a Phytogen variety, 715RF. This year more are to be in the first year screening trial, including varieties from CPCSD as well as a new Flex variety, 725 RF, from Phytogen as well the first cotton to be tested in the valley with the new WideStrike technology from Dow, 485 WRF, that will ward off worm pests.

USDA has given its approval to commercialization of the Flex technology, but FDA has not. If the FDA approval does not come before harvest, the board will once again be required to destroy the crop. However, company officials have told the board FDA approval is expected by harvesttime.

e-mail:hcline@primediabusiness.com