There were more than a few San Joaquin Valley cotton producers who sat down to Thanksgiving dinner with cotton still to pick.

That has not be the case for many seasons, but SJV producers could dodge the bullet — early fall rains followed by Tule ground fog — for only so long.

It has been so long Earl Williams, president of the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations, could not remember the last time fall weather was as wet and dreary as this season.

“It is the worst harvest season we have seen in recent memory,” Williams said.

He estimated a week before Thanksgiving that 20 percent of the SJV crop had yet to be picked. “And we have been stuck on that 20 percent for several weeks.”

Mark Bagby, Calcot director of communications, estimated 85 percent to 90 percent of the Acala/upland cotton had been picked by the week before Thanksgiving, but only two-thirds of the Pima crop was in modules.

“That is the unfortunate part, most of the 20 percent left is Pima and rain and wet weather hurts Pima grades much worse than upland,” said Williams.

“We have grown accustomed to the overwhelming majority of the SJV Pima with grades 1 through 3 the last few seasons. This season we are seeing 4s and 5s as a result of the rains,” said Bagby. Extra Long Staple grades below 3 are heavily discounted. There is a 14-16 cents per pound discount in the government loan schedule for grade 4 versus grade 3 Pima cotton, depending on the staple.

Damper on season

The unseasonably early fall rains put a damper on what was shaping up to be a stellar SJV cotton seasons.

“We were going like gangbusters the first part of October and had probably 60 percent of a crop out before the first rain hit. We had a little window after that first storm and probably picked another 10 to 15 percent with a little good weather behind the first storm. Then it started raining again and the fog rolled in, and we are dead in the water,” said Williams “If we had had two weeks of good weather through the end of October, we would have had this crop in the modules.”

Rain totals were has high as four inches from the middle of October to the middle of November. “We are hearing rainfall totals higher for this time of year than ever before,” said Williams.

Williams said the rains will reduce yields, but probably not enough to keep it from becoming the record yield-wise many were predicting. “The rain and wind probably knocked some cotton on the ground, but the real problem with the wet, foggy weather is that it is hurting Pima grades.”

“We have received a lot of cotton … it is a big crop,” said Bagby.

“USDA did not revise its yield numbers in November while everybody else raised their numbers,” said Bagby.

USDA is predicting Acala/upland yields will average 1,508 pounds per acre. The five-year average is 1,352. For ELS, USDA is projecting an SJV average yield of 1,425 pounds per acre. Over the past five years, the ELS average has been 1,255 pounds.

“In general, it has been a good year. Yields for the most part are good and producers do not have a lot of cost in this crop,” said University of California Extension Cotton Specialist Bob Hutmacher.

Four-bale fields

“There were a lot of four-bale fields picked before the rains hit and a fair number of them were in the 4.5- to 5-bale range,” he said. “And where growers typically get 2.5 to 3 bales, they are harvesting 3.4 to 4 bales.”

Phytogen Seed Co. has for several seasons been rewarding growers with certified 4-bale fields with special jacket. This year Phytogen has had to award 5-bale jackets to three growers so far this season and the ginning season is just getting a full head of steam. Gins do not start running until electricity rates go down Nov. 1. The 5-bale jackets are leather. Four-bale jackets are not.

Arizona growers also are behind in harvesting what USDA predicts will be a record average crop of 1,342 pounds per acre.

“It turned wet and cold after defoliation and the bolls did not open,” said Rick Lavis, executive secretary of the Arizona Cotton Growers Association.

However, he said the crop is a big one. “The cold wet weather just slowed some of the guys down a little.”

e-mail: hcline@primediabusiness.com