Monday, November 13, 2017

A Dull Year in the Cotton Field – That’s Bright News for Growers Across the Valley

It’s hard to believe another cotton season is winding down.

Way back at the end of March, we found a few early-bird growers getting a jump by planting the first cotton seeds in the ground. For the first time in five years, growers came into the season feeling more optimistic.

California cotton acreage increased this year.
As we all remember, the severe drought coupled by little to no federal water allocations for many Westside farmers during the 2010s cast a pall over California cotton production. But a drought-busting winter seemed to rejuvenate growers – thanks to loosened water allocations.

The statistics tell the story. This year, growers are predicted to harvest 90,000 acres of upland/acala cotton (up from 62,000 acres in 2016) and 208,000 acres of high quality Pima (up from 191,000 acres in 2016), according the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service.

In early May, young cotton plants started emerging from the ground during unusually warm spring days.  Growers started to irrigate for the first time after planting.
Of course, there are always bumps along the way. Growers continued to deal with the presence of Fusarium wilt in their fields. The most trouble is Race 4 Fursarium, a nasty soil disease that moves within fields through the soil or water. It also survives indefinitely in the soil.
A wet winter meant greater water availability in 2017.
Looking back, field scout Damien Jelen says “we had a pretty heavy bug problem this year. We didn’t really get a freeze to knock down the bug pressure.”

Yes, a mid-June heat wave added to the pest pressure. Then in August the cotton aphid population suddenly exploded and forced growers to take quick action on treatment.

Despite the bug issues throughout the season, growers were able to knock back the pest threat effectively and “didn’t lose too much crop – nothing out of the ordinary,” Damien says.

Growers dealt with a heavy bug problem this season.
As usual, aphids and whitefly were worrisome after the bolls started to crack open and the fluffy lint started to pop outin late summer. The honeydew triggered by these pests can lead to sticky cotton and downgrade fiber quality.
The good news:  “We didn’t have any real problem with sticky cotton,” Damien says.
You might say the cotton season was absence of any real drama in the field. That’s how we like it.

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