Eight weeks after the official starting date for planting cotton in the California San Joaquin Valley, only about half of the projected 600,000 acres of Upland and Pima cotton have been seeded. Moreover, the Pima cotton acreage guessing game has begun in earnest.

The lateness of the hour has everyone convinced Extra Long Staple cotton acreage will not reach the 290,000 USDA is projecting. The most optimistic are saying 250,000. Some were predicting last fall the ’06 acreage would reach 325,000 acres. Now with all the wet weather, others are saying it will only equal last year’s 230,000 acres.

The first definitive look at how much Pima cotton is actually planted in the valley will come May 23 when Western Farm Press, Supima, California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations and the University of California hosts the fifth Pima Production Summit at the Visalia Convention Center, Visalia, Calif.

The free conference will open with registration and continental breakfast at 8 a.m. with the first speaker at 9 a.m. After a morning of presentations, there will be a luncheon followed by the regular meeting of the San Joaquin Valley Cotton Board in the same meeting room.

Jeff Elder, vice chairman of the Supima board of directors and vice president, cotton marketing, J.G. Boswell Co., will offer his insight into the crop size and condition as the part of the half-day program.

There will also be a presentation from Earl Williams, president of the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association, on the roller ginning capacity in the valley and an update on new high-speed roller gin stands. Jesse Curlee and Marc Lewkowitz from Supima, will update growers and ginners at the summit on worldwide Pima marketing, promotion and licensing of Pima cotton products.

Pima research

In addition, UC farm advisors and Extension specialists will provide updates on Pima cotton research projects and insight in how to manage the late-planted SJV ELS crop.

For information and advance registration e-mail hcline@farmpress.com

This season was supposed to be the first where Pima cotton acreage exceeded Acala/upland acreage in the valley. Some had predicted ELS acreage would reach 325,000 acres on the strength of Pima prices of well above $1 per pound versus Acala prices of about half that.

The latest USDA estimate puts Upland about even with Pima. However, the 290,000 acres projected by USDA in its latest crop estimate is “pretty optimistic” in the wake of a series of Pacific storms that have dropped heavy rain and hail in the valley and heavy snowfall in the mountains, according to Williams, who said the January National Cotton Council estimate of 254,000 may not be far off.

It was well past the once perceived April 15-20 “deadline” for planting longer season Pima cotton before the first SJV Pima was even dropped from a planter. Growers will be fortunate to get it all in by May 1. However, University of California Extension Cotton Specialist Bob Hutmacher says the April 15-20 deadline has been relegated to wives tale status.

He points out that many long-time SJV Pima growers have successfully planted Pima in May in the past. However, growers must rely on experience to successfully bring in a late-planted crop ahead of fall rains and fog, which can severely damage ELS lint quality.

Williams and Hutmacher said this is not the year for first-time Pima growers to experiment with ELS on a large scale. There have been widespread reports that many growers were planning to seed large ELS acreage due to the strong Pima prices.

Seed exchange

Williams said he has received reports that growers in the North Valley around Los Banos and Dos Palos had exchanged Pima seed for Acala/upland varieties by April 15. There were reports of experienced Pima growers in the Southern San Joaquin reducing Pima acreage and switching to shorter-season Acala due to wet weather keeping them out of the fields.

Cotton planters were rolling like a NASCAR starting grid the week of April 17, and Williams had expected 60 percent of the crop to be seeded by Monday April 24.

However, by Monday he had backed off that by 10 percent after a series of Texas-style thunderstorms roamed the valley over the April 22-23 weekend with torrential downpours and hail. “There were weather alerts all over the valley Friday evening. I started calling around on Saturday to see what happened,” said Williams. “I had reports of crop damage to almonds and tomatoes and delays in getting cotton in some areas. It seemed to be centered in the Cantua Creek area primarily.

“However, I was pleased to discover that a lot of growers did not get hit. It all depended on where you were. It was spectacular, but spotty. When I got through calling I realized overall we were in pretty good shape,” he added.

Although showers were predicted — again — for the week of April 24, temperatures were forecast to turn warm — as high as the upper 80s by week’s end. The five-day degree day forecast for the week was in the ideal range. Williams did not expect planters to slow down in such good weather. “The one saving grace in all of the rain we have had this spring is that for the most part the weather has stayed pretty warm. If people could get on their fields, soil temps were never below the 58 degrees needed for planting,” said Williams.

“Where we got killed in the past is when it was wet with the cold weather and lousy soil temperatures. This year that has not been the case,” he added.

“We just may make it this year,” he said.

Heavy spring rains have damaged most crops in the state and run up fungicide bills. The state’s reservoirs are full from the well above normal rainfall. Water managers have been releasing as much water as practical down from dams into rivers without causing flooding along rivers and streams to make room for an anticipated massive snowmelt.

Most mountain areas have at least 150 percent of normal snow pack. That is good news for farmers because for the first time in years growers are being promised full project irrigation water allocations.

The flip side of the massive snow pack is that all that snow will melt this spring and early summer and flow into valley rivers and streams. How rapidly it melts is the $64 question. If temperatures turn warm quickly and the snow melts rapidly, the myriad of dams cannot control it. Already water is going over some dam spillways as well as being released from penstocks.

Some farmland downstream from dams has been flooded. So far it has been minor. There is also considerable pressure from the heavy rain on aging levees in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the so-called turnbuckle in the state’s surface water delivery systems not only for ag water, but urban water as well.

The state is working to strengthen the more suspect levees and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has requested federal fund to do more levee work and head off a major Hurricane Katrina-like flood. However, he has been rebuffed by everyone in the federal government from President George Bush on down through the secretaries of interior and homeland security.

California farmers are weary of the wet weather. In Fresno, the March-April span this year has been the wettest on record. As much as everyone is looking forward to the 80s, it may be more than they too much too soon to wish for if the warm weather spawns widespread flooding throughout the state from a inundating snowmelt.

e-mail: hcline@farmpress.com