Cotton farmers from Texas and Oklahoma toured California farms as part of the National Cotton Council’s annual Producer Information Exchange tour. The regular event allows growers from different regions of the United States to survey farming operations in different locations of the country.
The California leg of this event takes farmers to a winery, tomato processor, large growing operations that include tree nuts and row crops, and the office of the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations, where the visiting growers learn how heavy-handed regulatory policies greatly increase the cost of producing cotton when compared to other states.
For instance, it costs over $25 per bale to gin California cotton. Southwest region farmers, where this year’s tour group farms, pay less than $16 to gin the same bale of cotton when factoring in labor, fuel and electricity costs.
Roger Isom, president of the CCGGA, also highlighted regulatory policy and law that makes it more difficult for gins to simply remain in business in a state that once grew well over one million acres of cotton annually and housed nearly 300 cotton gins. Today farmers grow less than 300,000 acres – mostly Pima varieties – of cotton that are ginned at about 20 facilities.
Isom tells of a former member of his who relocated to Texas because the cost of doing business in California was too high. The grower said when he went in to apply for his permits from the county, he was told he didn’t need permits – just a description of what he was building.
Labor and workers compensation costs are also higher than other places, Isom says. What costs a California cotton gin nearly $30 per $100 of payroll in California for workers compensation insurance is half that price across the Colorado River in Arizona, he continued.
For the 10 visiting growers, the trip to Jerry Salvador’s Pima cotton field was a treat as none of them have ever seen the premium type of cotton grown.
Growers also visited Don Cameron’s Terra Nova Ranch near Helm, where he grows hundreds of crops across 7,000 acres of farmland and is still trying to build a massive water storage system he will use to capture storm flows from the Kings River to help replenish the region’s aquifer during years of heavy rain and runoff.
The week-long trip spanned growing operations from Los Banos to Bakersfield and is made possible through a grant from Bayer to The Cotton Foundation. This is the 31st year for the event, which has exposed nearly 1,200 U.S. cotton producers to innovative growing practices in Cotton Belt regions different than their own.