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SJV cotton's anti-stickiness drive bold, gutsy and risky

It's bold. It's gutsy. And it's risky. It's rare for an industry to point out its shortcomings. However, San Joaquin Valley cotton industry leaders have done just that in launching a bold, no-holds-barred campaign to eliminate sticky cotton.

Bright red and white banners hang on the walls of every cotton meeting place in the valley. They proclaim “High Quality Cotton. Our Past — Our Future” A red line slashes through the words “No Sticky Cotton” overlaying a map of California. There are also lapel and mailing stickers and bumper stickers heralding the same message.

Irascible Earl Williams, the president and CEO of the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations, is telling it like it is as he always does. He says if you wantonly produce sticky cotton, you're not wanted in the San Joaquin Valley Cotton industry. If you are a ginner who knowingly accepts sticky cotton, does nothing about it and ships bales of sticky cotton to textile mills or merchants without telling them, you're a second-class ginner.

Williams' words are being backed up by an extensive University of California Cooperative Extension educational effort to let producers know how they can protect cotton against stickiness. Williams also promises that bankers will be told how important is to the industry and their producers that they to fund late-season pesticide sprays.

The campaign has earned a lot of attaboys from within and outside of the San Joaquin Valley. It has not only put growers and ginners on notice, it is telling the world's textile industry that the leaders of the San Joaquin Valley cotton industry recognize the problem and are getting serious about preventing sticky cotton.

It is also putting a big bulls-eye on the valley's cotton industry. If the daring campaign is followed by another year of sticky cotton, it could be a huge disaster.

Indications are that silverleaf whiteflies and aphids are back just ahead of defoliation season. There are reports that the honeydew secreting pests are as far north as Merced County. Aerial applicators are flying on pesticides. Cotton is open and vulnerable right now. It is fish or cut bait time. Unfortunately, there are reports that people are cutting bait. A few growers are apparently not listening, and for whatever reason, fields are going unprotected. As much as Williams and others would like to believe this seed cotton will not be ginned, if it becomes sticky, it will be at some price by someone.

What then becomes of this sticky cotton? Textile mills will take sticky cotton. They buy it from Sudan and other parts of the world where stickiness is a given. But, they know that they are buying from those places. What irritates mills more than anything is the unwanted surprise of opening bales they thought were clean, but are sticky. While the first line of defense against stickiness falls on the growers, ultimately it is up to the merchants and cooperatives to make the final stand against stickiness. If marketers find it, financially penalize the grower or ginner. If they offer to sell it, tell the mills it's sticky. There can be no surprises this season like they were last year.

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