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P.I.E. tour: Western cotton growers impressed with Texas crop

Cotton farmers from Arizona and California expressed surprise at the Texas dryland cotton crop prospects and near-amazement at the amount of rainfall they encountered recently on a National Cotton Council Producer Information Exchange (P.I.E.) tour.

The annual trek, which began this year in Lubbock and ended up in the South Texas Coastal Bend, coincided with heavy rains in the Corpus Christi area.

Bayer CropSciences is the corporate sponsor for the tour, which allows cotton farmers from each unique region to visit other areas to gain a better understanding of the opportunities and challenges other growers face. Farmers from the West saw a good deal of both on their trip to Texas.

“I’ve never seen so much rain, except one time on vacation in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina,” said Stephen Fanucchi, Hanford, California.

Western growers also expressed surprise at how well the Texas crop looked.

“I’d never seen dryland cotton before and I was impressed (with fields in the Texas High Plains),” said Andrew Groppetti, San Joaquin, California. “It’s a good-looking crop and growers say it’s going to be a good year for dryland cotton.”

“The High Plains crop is a bit later than usual, but it looks good,” said Bryan Bone, Bakersfield, California.

Debra Bagnell, Coolidge, Arizona, said the Texas High Plains dryland crop “looks like Arizona’s irrigated cotton. It’s not what I expected dryland cotton to be.”

“It all looked good,” said Todd Rovey, Buckeye, Arizona.

“It’s so much different from what we do,” Karl Button, Casa Grande, Arizona, said. “Farmers we talked to said they have good prospects and have had little insect pressure.”

He said fields were fruiting well and appeared to have a good boll set. “Irrigated cotton looked good.”

Justin Dutra, Stratford, California, said he was “surprised at how dryland cotton was loading up,” and at the size of the West Texas crop.

Groppetti was impressed by stacked gene cotton in West Texas. “We don’t have Roundup Ready Flex in Acala or Pima cotton yet.” He said boll retention on the stacked gene cotton was excellent.

“I was amazed at the overall cotton crop in the state of Texas,” Fanucchi said. “West Texas reminds me of what Kern County (California) was when I was a kid, wall to wall cotton. Over the years, I've heard a lot of things about the stripper-cotton operations in Texas, and until you actually see some of these operations you can't comprehend what they are talking about.”

He said the welcome was warm. “We spent two days on the Caprock with the Mimms family and David Jones, and they treated us like family. I was impressed with their operations, and the overall crop looks tremendous.”

He was impressed with production costs for West Texas cotton. “I think it was $300 to $400 per acre. The other amazing thing is the labor aspect. It seems that a 10,000-acre operation would involve five to ten people, all family. Compared to California growing costs, labor and the deflated price, it is no wonder that cotton is disappearing from the West.”

Growers said Far West cotton prospects look good, too.

“I have an early crop coming on,” said Bone. “I had a good planting window.” He said regrowth on early-maturing cotton is a slight concern but harvesting early will avoid late-season insect problems and could save on insecticide applications.

“The plants are loaded up.”

Bone raises both Pima and some Acala cotton. “We grow upland cotton for seed.”

“Our crop is coming along pretty good,” Bagnell said. “We’re a bit short on rain but we irrigate everything.”

She said heat had been severe this summer. “We’ve been reaching 110 to 117 degrees.”

In addition to cotton, she also has alfalfa, grapes, corn, milo, Sudangrass, and wheat.

Louise Clark, Florence, Arizona, did not plant cotton this year, “due to the water shortage in Arizona. We have been planting cotton since 1964, but not this year. We have wheat, which of course has been harvested, alfalfa, and milo.”

Clark praised Rick King, NCC member services rep for the Texas High Plains area, for his role in organizing a trip she said was, “magnificent — informative, educational, and fun. Rick did a great job of planning and organizing the agenda and provided us with numerous tours both in Lubbock and Corpus Christi.”

She also was surprised at how well dryland cotton looked. “I had heard of dryland farming but was amazed at how well their crops look in the Lubbock area. My heart goes out to the farmers in the Corpus Christi area. Being from Arizona, I can't believe the amount of rainfall in such a few days.”

She said a tour of the King Ranch was also fascinating. “King Ranch provided us with a fantastic tour; we were able to visit their farming region, the cotton gin, as well as the ranching section.”

The crop in the Coastal Bend did not measure up to High Plains prospects. Producers planted late, delayed by heavy March and April rains. That rainy spell also limited sun and heat units early on. Then unusually heavy rainfall amounts in June and July further delayed the crop and resulted in aborted fruit and boll rot.

Growers said they were behind from 10 days to two weeks. Some also said they were looking at one of their best crops ever in June, but will be fortunate to make an average crop following the wettest July most had ever seen. Some areas recorded more than 20 inches of rainfall for the month.

The crop out West is promising.

Button said his crop “looks excellent. We’ve had no (severe) insect pressure. We took care of white fly and Lygus early. The crop is maturing early.”

Rovey said Intruder, applied in mid-July, took care of mites. “We’ve had no real big insect pressure.”

They’re using a bit more growth regulator than usual, however. “We used a good bit of Pix but we have a good crop coming on.”

“The crop looks good,” Dutra said. “We have a good stand and little insect pressure. The crop is on time and maybe a little ahead of schedule. It’s been a relatively easy crop to grow, so far.”

He says the harvest date is uncertain but he’s looking for a 3.5-bale yield potential.

He grows primarily Pima cotton and also raises alfalfa.

“We have a good start,” Groppetti said. “It’s early and looks like it’s putting on a good bottom crop and so far has an above-average yield potential.”

He said a 3.2- to 3.5-bale goal is typical. “They make a bit better than that further south,” he said.

He grows all Pima cotton. “We made our last field of Acala last year.” He said the economics of Pima are much better than Acala cotton. “I just can’t make it pencil out with the current loan rate,” he said, “especially when I can lock in $1 a pound for Pima. By the end of the year that may bump up to $1.10.”

He’s growing field corn for silage and has put in 20 acres of pomegranates.

“Silage is becoming a main crop in the area,” he said. “It’s an efficient way to use water. We can get about 30 tons of silage, 70 percent moisture, per acre.”

He said the market has been good with prices running from $32 to $35 a ton. “Silage follows grain prices,” he said.

Fanucchi said he’s one of about five farmers within a 15-mile radius in the northern end of Kern County who still grows cotton, excluding Buttonwillow.

“We are 50/50 Acala, Pima. The Acala did not have early Lygus pressure and we have set the bottom and middle crop. If we set the top we are in for a tremendous crop, 3-bale minimum.”

Fanucchi grows cotton “surrounded by alfalfa, trees and vines. We saw a big shift to grains and corn once the dairies moved in, but that is decreasing as water supplies dry up and permanent crops are planted. The small amount of vegetables in our area has done well: tomatoes and carrots are making more of a presence as ground to the south is being developed, and water in the north is disappearing. These are interesting times in Kern County and California.”

He said the Pima crop looks great “as far as I can tell, having grown it only once before in a tough year. I have nothing to compare it to. People don't recognize that Pima won’t grow everywhere. If we get a wet spring and can't get the crop in before May 1 — the crop will not finish.”

He’s interested to see developments with Liberty Link Pima and more seed reproduction for the upland varieties.

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