Cotton has long been an important crop for Kings County, and this year it may regain its second top crop spot again. In 2015, it was pushed to third, with cattle earning second, according to the county’s 2015 Agricultural Crop Report.
This year, the county saw a rise in cotton planting, which is most likely due to a rise in commodity pricing, said Rusty Lantsberger, Kings County deputy ag commissioner. Plantings consumed 83,120 acres in the county this year, he said, as compared to 69,742 harvested acres last year and 75,063 harvested acres in 2014.
In 2015, Acala cotton sold for $487 per bale, up from $451 in 2014; Pima cotton bales sold for $687 in 2015, down from $871 the year prior, according to the crop report.
Tulare County also has some cotton plantings with 9,860 harvested acres last year, according to that county’s 2015 Agricultural Crop Report. It, too, has seen routinely declining cotton production.
Cotton was the Number three commodity for Kings County in 2015. In the years prior to that, it was Number two, behind only milk. Fifty years ago, cotton was Number one. Back in the late ‘70s, cotton plantings took up some 287,000 acres in Kings County and approximately 219,000 acres in Tulare County.
Kings County nonetheless remains the top producer of cotton lint and cottonseed oil within the state.
“Acres [planted] are up, statewide,” said Stan Creelman, manager of Mid-Valley Cotton Growers Inc., in Tulare. “We’re up [locally] about 20-26%,” he said.
This is promising for the cotton industry and cotton gin facilities.
Mid-Valley Cotton Growers runs a local cotton gin facility and receives cotton from neighboring counties every year.
While cotton pricing definitely has something to do with the rise, Creelman also attributes the increase in cotton planting to the fact that it uses less water to grow than some competing crops such as corn or black-eyed peas, he said. While some plantings have simply been a rotation in crop, some fields that had been fallow due to the drought are back in production this year with cotton.
Weather permitting, the cotton should yield on average about three and three-quarters bales per acre for Upland cotton (Acala is a high-quality Upland variety) and three bales per acre for Pima cotton, Creelman said.
According to Calcot Cotton Marketing Services, California maintains approximately 5-8% of the country’s cotton plantings, but 10-14% of the US yearly production, because the state gets “phenomenally high yields,” netting more bales per acre. But the cost of production is also higher, keeping profit margins tight. About 80-85% of California’s raw cotton is exported to Pacific Rim countries, as well as Turkey, India and China.
Defoliation is under way, Lantsberger said, and harvesting should begin with a couple of weeks.