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Pima crop takes almost welcome dip

At least 150,000-bales have been trimmed from the early supply side of the 2001/2002 Pima marketing year equation, and there may be more clipping since the crop is late and yields may fall far short of the healthy 1,100- to 1,200-pound averages growers have come to expect over the past two seasons.

Jarral Neeper, assistant vice president of economics and call pool operations for Calcot, estimated 2001 SJV Pima crop acreage at 235,000 acres for the 170 people on hand for the fourth annual Pima Production Summit in Visalia, Calif., in mid-May.

Sponsored by Western Farm Press, California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association, The Supima Association of America and the University of California, the summit drew producers, ginners and marketers involved in growing, processing and selling all of the valley’s Pima crop this season.

Mark Grewal, vice president and director of J.G. Boswell Co., the valley’s largest Pima producer, projected at least a 5 percent yield loss valleywide based on the poor start and the at least 30 percent replanting he estimated took place. In some areas, as high as 75 percent of the acreage was replanted.

Boswell replanted 25 percent of its acreage, according to Grewal, who sat on a seven-member panel of growers and breeders during the summit.

Also, some stands were thinned significantly by the weather, but not replanted, again lowering yield potential.

Much of the crop was planted late, after April 16, the date after which experts say growers should expect a 1 percent yield decrease for each day after that.

That doesn’t hold true for Jean Errotabere of Riverdale, Calif., one of the panel members. Errotabere Ranches have been recognized as not only one of the best Pima producers in the valley, but an expert in late-planted cotton with a ranch average of more than three bales per acre.

Errotabere seeded the last of his 2,000 acres of Pima just before May 1, but he reported "beautiful stands" by May 15 with plant populations at an almost crowded 80,000 plants per acre.

"We have a good tap root already, but I have seen some early planted fields that have no tap root, only feeder roots," said Errotabere. Those fields, he predicted, will struggle this season.

All the growers and breeders on the panel reported cracking and drying out, prompting breeder Jim Olvey to comment "this is not over yet," referring to the negative impact of the highly variable spring weather on the Pima crop.

Growers have experienced century mark temperatures and readings below freezing since March 10. Mix in winds up to 60-miles per hour drying out beds and slicing off young seedlings, and 2001 stacks up as one of the most forgettable springs since ELS cotton was commercialized in the valley a decade ago.

Kings County, Calif., producer Ted Sheely planted early, starting March 20, only to stop four days later. He waited 10 days to begin again and finished April 1. All his cotton was rained on, flushing nightshade. "I used Staple on Pima. Did not want to, but also did not want a big hoe bill," he added.

Sheely agreed that the crop is at least 10 days behind, "but we do have a stand…without a stand makes is tough to produce a crop."

All the producers agreed the Pima withstood spring adversity better than Acala and California Upland varieties.

Phytogen cotton breeder Joel Mahill call his stands "moderate to good — not outstanding like the wonderful prior two years. April this season was quite an experience."

Richard Percy, USDA-ARS Pima breeder from Arizona who conducts research in the San Joaquin, said his fields were late-planted (April 26) and stands are only adequate. "There seems to be a certain amount of deep soils cracking, and I do worry about fields drying down."

It remains a long time until harvest, but with the late start, one of the concerns will be crop termination of the long-season crop. Most Pima is double picked, and if the crop is terminated too early, there could be micronaire problems.

"A really great manager can make up for early season losses," said Grewal.

The bizarre planting weather eased SJV acreage away from the brink of what unquestionably would have been a record breaker. However, at 235,000 acres, that is 90,000 more than last season and close to the record of 1999. Prices for that crop plummeted and acreage fell 40 percent in 2000 from the year before, noted Neeper.

Egypt, California’s chief rival in the world export market, produced only 920,000 bales in 2000, the lowest level in the last century. This was done when the Egyptian government reduced it support.

Egyptian growers flocked to rice last season, only to flood that market. Now they are back to cotton, increasing acreage about 38 percent this season. Neeper said the Egyptian crop is off to a good start and that nation could produce a crop of 1.3 million bales.

Assuming an average yield of 1,100 pounds (which many believe may be a bit high with the poor start), Neeper said California could produce 530,000 bales, second only to the 603,000-bale record of 1999.

However, acreage for the remainder of the U.S. Pima belt is not expected to take an appreciable jump, and Neeper is estimating a U.S. crop of only 580,000 bales. Add carryover to that and the U.S. should have 670,000 bales to market, 40,000 bales over the five years average.

"Although these supplies aren’t terribly burdensome, compared to say the 1999 crop year, they are large," Neeper points out.

Neeper estimates Egypt and the U.S. will produce a combined 1.7 million bales. The rest of the world’s long staple producing nations should produce the rest of the world’s 2.9 million bale supply.

World consumption by comparison is projected to be 3 million bales. Of that 1.8 million bales is consumed by countries producing ELS cotton and 1.2 million bales is imported.

Combined, the U.S. and Egypt export about 850,000 bales. The U.S. averages about 452,000 bales.

"There is no reason at this time to think that exports next year won’t be as large," Neeper said. "Forward sales commitments are at their best level since the 1996 crop year and consumption prospects look a little better for next year."

With total U.S. consumption pegged at 110,000 bales and 450,000 into export, Neeper predicted the carryover at the end of 2001 at 110,000 bales, up 30,000 bales from this year.

"That is by no means a large number of bales, but in percentage terms it means an increase of almost 40 percent over this year. In the Pima market, it does not take a larger number of bales to be excessive," he added.

Using his early season supply/demand assumptions, Neeper said prices for the 2001 crop will not be as good as this season when the peaked at more than $1 per pound in January — "but they should be steady."

He said new crop prices "could spend a considerable amount of time in the high 80s or low 90s" for the 2001 crop.

What could change that would be a further reduction in U.S. acreage; production problems in Egypt, or improved world consumption.

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