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Calcot marks 90th anniversary, nears 70 millionth bale

Calcot officers
Calcot Ltd. cotton marketing cooperative leadership includes – from left – Chair Greg Wuertz, Vice-Chairs Jeff Mancebo and Keith Deputy, plus President Jarral Neeper.
Calcot cotton marketing co-op achieves 90th anniversary; expects to market co-op’s 70 millionth bale this fall

A musical and photo tribute to the year 1927 kicked off this year’s Calcot Ltd. cotton marketing cooperative annual meeting held in Phoenix, Ariz., reflecting back to the same year when slugger Babe Ruth chased the baseball homerun title, motorized tractors and combines took off, and automobiles replaced the horse and buggy.

Perhaps more important to the California cotton industry was 1927 in fact was the year when a small group of California cotton farmers led by Lloyd Frick started the California Cotton Cooperative Association (changed to Calcot in 1956) to market their fiber. In its first year, the new co-op marketed 10,000 bales.  

“These producers were looking for a fair price for their hard work, a fair return from all business partners, and the control of their destinies,” Calcot Chairman Greg Wuertz told the crowd. “Those are things we still seek today.”

Now nine decades later, Calcot achieved its 90th anniversary milestone this year with expectations to market the co-op’s 70 millionth bale this fall.

“This is a remarkable achievement,” said Wuertz, a cotton grower at Fastrack Farms in Coolidge, Ariz.

While Calcot had its grassroots beginning in California, Calcot today markets members’ cotton in four states – California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.

Four challenges

Wuertz reported on progress made at Calcot over the last year at the co-op’s helm. His four key challenges have included reducing costs on a per pound basis, increasing the co-op’s volume, determining warehouse capacity and distribution, and improving the marketing co-op’s capital position.

Costs are down in part by reducing staff and unused warehouse space. Calcot recently sold its warehouse near Hanford, Calif.

In South Texas, Wuertz says more cotton is now marketed by Calcot and its looking for additional warehouse space with access to Gulf Coast shipping. He says the expected lint volume and quality this year from South Texas will fall due to Hurricane Harvey.

Overall, Wuertz expects Calcot this year will handle 30 percent more cotton volume compared to 2016 due to increased acreage plantings and higher yields in the four Calcot-member states.

State of the Industry

Calcot President Jarral Neeper discussed cotton futures, noting that mid-September bids are near the same level from last fall in the 68 cents per pound range (Upland cotton).

Looking ahead to the 2017-2018 season, Neeper hinted at higher fiber prices.

“In futures, we have a much better position for the 2017 crop which by all accounts will be considerably larger than the 2016 crop.”

The USDA’s latest estimate at press time was a 21.8-million-bale U.S. cotton crop – about 1.25 million bales higher than the previous month’s estimate. Last year, the challenge was to move 17.1 million bales through the marketplace. Due to lower prices for other crops, cotton growers this year planted 2.5 million-plus more acres to cotton than last year.

“California once again has water though the exceptional wet winter and spring brought cooler temperatures, delayed plantings, early crop development, and insects,” Neeper said. “Arizona has had virtually ideal conditions and is looking at outstanding yields.”  

Texas, the nation’s largest cotton-producing state, is picking a large crop estimated at 9 million-plus bales this year on 6.9 million planted acres, according to USDA. While Hurricane Harvey slammed the Upper Coastal Bend, Neeper believes large yields in the Texas High Plains could make up for the losses overall and then some.

The Calcot leader says Harvey may dampen cotton prospects in Louisiana and Mississippi; and from Hurricane Irma in the Southeast. Nationally, instead of 21.8 million U.S. bales this year the actual number may be closer to 21 to 21.5 million bales.

Neeper said, “We’re gonna have a large crop this year folks.”

Combined, world cotton production is estimated at 121 million bales of cotton. 

On the consumption side, USDA believes cotton use will only be about 118 million bales, and the U.S. is expected to export 14.9 million bales into the world market.

Neeper said, “This sounds like a pretty good number since there are 7.3 million bales registered on the books for export. We’re essentially halfway there.”

Board election

Calcot has 31 directors who represent cotton growers in four states. Re-elected to the board as District Directors for three-year terms included Brue Heiden (Paloma Gin), Greg Wuertz (River Coop Gin), and Toby Robertson (South Texas).

Elected to Director-at-Large positions for one-year terms are: Michael Brooks, Goodyear, Ariz.; Steve Coester, Maricopa, Ariz.; James Johnson, Columbus, N.M.; Melvin Pereira, Lemoore, Calif.; John Pucheu, Jr., Tranquillity, Calif., Jack Seiler, Blythe, Calif.; and Jon Whatley, Odem, Texas.

Grower crop estimates

Growers at Calcot’s annual meeting included Texas producer Keith Deputy, a Calcot vice-chairman, and former Supima chair, about his 1,500 acre cotton crop this year which includes about 1,200 acres of Pima (Deltapine, PhytoGen) and 300 acres of Upland (Dyna-Gro). 

“The cotton season started out cool in April and May and then flipped to 100 degrees in June which was excellent and made up a lot of heat units,” Deputy said.

The summer months included seven inches of rain which “didn’t help,” and September had good heat at the end.

“I think we’ll have an average yield this year (1.8 bale Pima and 3.5 bale Upland) but not as good as last year,” Deputy said.

The third-generation grower was not impacted by Hurricane Harvey. Price wise, he would be pleased with 80 cents plus per pound Upland prices to help offset equipment costs.  

Heiden assessment

Another grower at the event was Richard Heiden of H Four Farms at Buckeye, Ariz. who has about 1,000 acres of Upland cotton this year. Cotton was the Heiden family’s primary crop for years but the lower-priced cotton market moved the family to switch many acres to alfalfa hay, now their largest crop.

“Whatever gives the most profit to grow we’re gonna grow,” Heiden explained. “Right now it’s hay.”

This is young Heiden’s first year growing cotton at the family’s Paloma location.

“Right now we’re trying to figure out if the top crop will make it. We think it will.”

Weather wise, the Heiden’s cotton growing season was hot in July and August yet cooler September nights have helped the crop.

“Growing cotton is a lot more fun than alfalfa,” he chuckled.

Ginner ready

Cotton growers are not the only ones poised for cotton harvest. Central Arizona ginner Butch Gladden of Pinal’s Crazy 8 Gin at Stanfield has the gin ready for lint – his 43rd ginning season overall. Crazy 8 typically gins about 40,000 bales annually with 55,000 bales expected this year due largely to increased acreage.

Cotton growers have told Gladden they are pleased with the cotton crop quality and yield potential.

“The weather has been good with low insect pressure,” he said.

To prepare for this ginning season, Gladden says the gin added new heaters to dry cotton, plus a new moisture system at the other end to put more moisture back in the bale, plus added a new strapping system.”

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