It's called the “S” word because no one wants to talk about it. Nevertheless, textile mills are talking loudly about it now as complaints are coming in about “S”ticky San Joaquin Valley cotton, including the valley's premium cotton, Pima.

Kings County cotton producer Ted Sheely of Lemoore, Calif., received earfuls about sticky cotton on a recent Cotton Council International mill tour of Bangladesh.

On the wall of one textile mill office was a map of the San Joaquin Valley with a yellow line drawn across it, dissecting the heart of the West Side of the San Joaquin Valley. The mill said it would not buy cotton from produced from south of that line.

“I heard the word stickiness everywhere we went,” said Sheely. “It is a reputation we absolutely cannot afford to have.”

Supima Association president Jesse Curlee agrees. He began getting complaints early as 2001 Pima bales started arriving at mills in the fall and earlier this year.

“It is an issue we cannot ignore. It will not go away by ignoring it,” he said.

Major summit topic

That is why a significant part of the 2002 Pima Production Summit May 14 in Visalia, Calif., at the Visalia Convention Center will be devoted to preventing honeydew deposits from silverleaf whitefly and aphids on cotton lint.

University of Arizona entomologist Peter Ellsworth and University of California IPM specialist Pete Goodell will lead a discussion on the issue of pest management to prevent stickiness.

Other highlights

Others on the program include:

  • Dunavant of California president Rodger Glaspey of Fresno who will give a Pima marketing outlook, including an estimate of the 2002 acreage.

  • Shane Ball, University of California Cooperative Extension specialist who oversees the extensive San Joaquin Valley Cotton Board (SJVCB) Pima variety testing program. He will provide yield and quality data from the most recent screening and variety trials.

  • Dan Munk, Fresno County UCCE farm advisor, who will lead a discussion on the new hybrid cottons from the Israeli seed company, Hazera. This cotton outfielded some Pima varieties by as much as 500 pounds of lint per acre in individual SJVCB trials.

  • Tulare County farm advisor Steve Wright will moderate a grower panel of Tim Thompson of Buttonwillow, Calif.; Daniel Burns of Dos Palos, Calif.; Mark Grewal of J.G. Boswell, Corcoran, Calif.; and Jean Errotabere of Riverdale, Calif.

Registration for the program begins at 8 a.m. with a continental breakfast with the first speaker at 9 a.m. There will be a free lunch courtesy of cotton industry suppliers.

An advance registration form is on this page of Western Farm Press, one of the co-sponsors of the fifth annual summit along with the Supima Association, University of California and the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association.

Ellsworth is one of nation's most experienced research entomologists in the control of silverleaf whitefly because Arizona was one of the first states to be forced to deal with sticky cotton caused by hordes of the tiny insect.

“We have learned that weather conditions make a lot of difference from year to year,” said Ellsworth, who just finished leading a series of meetings in Arizona re-emphasizing the importance of controlling whiteflies to prevent sticky cotton.

Became problem again

For three seasons leading up to 2001, Arizona producers have not had major whitefly problems. But like California, stickiness became an issue once again last season. Ellsworth's meeting encouraged growers to be vigilant in whitefly control not only in cotton, but also across all commodities.

“Whitefly problems are associated with good early season weather. Unfortunately, this season is shaping up to be another serious whitefly year,” he said.

It has also been an early season in California as well with ideal planting weather from late March on.

Ellsworth said growers in Arizona have demonstrated they can be vigilant. “1998 was a bad whitefly year, but growers proved they could control whitefly with the tools we have available,” he said.

Several reasons have been put forth for the stickiness problem in 2001. One is that the honeydew-depositing insects came in just before or at defoliation time and growers did not treat because defoliation was at hand.

Ellsworth said defoliation time is when cotton is most vulnerable. It is dry and bolls are fully open. Any honeydew deposited is not subject to degradation because it is dry and mild, especially if there is no late season rain to wash off the honeydew.

“You can do everything right up until defoliation and it all could go for naught if whiteflies move in on defoliated, open cotton,” said Ellsworth.

e-mail: hcline@primediabusiness.com