cotton-field

Cotton long has been a mainstay crop in Pinal County and has a long growing season.

FLORENCE — Plentiful rain followed by heat stress weren’t the best things for Pinal County’s cotton crop, but growers are hoping for at least decent yields.

After “a pretty good spring” to establish the crop, wet conditions limited the ability of growers to perform management tactics in the field, according to Blase Evancho, assistant for field crops with University of Arizona Pinal County Cooperative Extension.

“So it’s going to be a mixed bag all across the county, just depending on people’s production systems,” he said.

Because of the rain and when it came, farmers were dealing with too much vegetation and not enough fruit on the plants. “A lot of crops were really tall because people couldn’t get in with growth regulators. So we’ll see. It’s hard to say this year. It’s hard to say any year to be honest, you never know,” Evancho said.

Casa Grande farmer Paul “Paco” Ollerton agreed he never really knows how good or bad his crop is until it hits the scale. Last year at this time he thought his crop looked fine, “and it turned out to be a real wreck for those of us in the cotton industry. If you had a great-looking crop, it was an average crop. In fact, it wasn’t even average.

“To tell you the truth, last year … we actually ended up more than a bale off my five-year average, a little over 500 pounds of lint. Everything was off by three-fourths of a bale to a bale last year, no matter what it looked like,” Ollerton said.

At the gin Ollerton uses, the average was less than 2.5 bales per acre. He has talked to people who think the county average didn’t go over 2.5 bales last year. Not long ago, the county average was more than three bales. Still, he believes he has “a pretty decent crop” this year despite the heat stress in June and July.

Florence farmer Guy Rankin said, “We try to make three bales to the acre. You’d like to make four, but three bales is a pretty good yield. Three 500-pound bales is 1,500 pounds of lint.”

A plus for cotton farmers now is the price has been good, around 95 cents per pound, up from lows around 60 cents in recent years. “If you’re getting 95 cents per pound, that’s $1,400 or so an acre return,” Rankin said, “which is fairly good. Our costs anymore are approaching $1,000 an acre to grow it.”

Rankin is expecting an average crop, depending on conditions in these last few weeks.

“You never complain about the rain, we’re so happy to get any moisture,” Rankin said. “It’s a two-edged sword. It probably saved us an irrigation or two and it’s good fertilizer; nitrogen in the rainwater is good for cotton. But it can make it grow too fast....”

Kevin Rogers, executive vice president of the Arizona Cotton Growers Association, said, “This summer was a little wetter for most of our folks. But most of our guys will battle through and are going to come out all right.”

He is expecting yields to be “average or a little above average, depending on where your farms are and how the weather hits you. But I think most of our guys are feeling pretty good.

“… We don’t need a lot of rain down on the farm,” Rogers said. “We need the rain and snow up in the mountains to fill up our reservoirs. That’s our wish, that we get more snow pack up north to fill up our lakes and fill up Lake Powell and Lake Mead, which obviously didn’t happen. So that’s why for next year’s crop, our acres are probably going to be reduced due to the reduction of CAP (Central Arizona Project) water.”

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.

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