“We are looking at the lowest level of cotton acreage on record this year,” predicts Roger Isom, president and CEO of the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association.
For Kings County, typically the top producer in the state, it is hard to come up with an estimate, he said. More land is being flooded and the cold weather this spring put a crimp in the planting of upland cotton by mid-April and now Pima by mid-May
Isom notes that growers have traditionally grown “a lot of cotton in the Tulare Lake bottom,” and with much of it being flooded “there will be no cotton there this year.”
The lakebed historically has been drained but in very wet years like this - it returns to miles of inland sea - also ending grower’s plans.
The lakebed flooded in 1969, 1983, and 1997 and now 2023. Farmers may have to give up planting here not just this year but next or even in 2025.
We see a similar bearish viewpoint around the U.S. cotton belt. A National Cotton Producers estimate in February predicted upland cotton plantings will be down around 17% and in California by 43.3% - an estimate done before the big floods.
USDA’s March Prospective Plantings Report indicates U.S. producers intend to plant 11.3 million cotton acres in 2023, down 18.2% from the previous year. Upland area is projected to be 11.1 million acres, down 18.2% from 2022 while extra-long staple (ELS) or Pima area is projected at 154,000 acres, a 15.8% decrease.
That report says California pima acres will be down to 90,000 and upland just 15,000 acres.
Upland prices are around 83 cents a pound. California farmers planted 116,000 acres of pima last year. The current price is about $3.50 per pound.
In February Isom noted "Competition for ground with processing tomatoes may also shrink cotton acreage. Canners in January agreed to pay growers a contract price of $138 per ton for tomatoes; that’s 31.4% more than last year’s price.”
UC Davis's Arron Smith survey suggests the lakebed had over 50,000 acres of cotton planted last year.
“I doubt we hit 100,000 acres this year,” Isom said, referring to statewide cotton acreage. There were 132,000 acres in the ground last year. California cotton plantings reached a peak in the late 70s and early 80s, when an amazing 1.4 to 1.6 million acres were harvested each year.
California’s production of ELS or Pima cotton represents over 90% of the total U.S. Pima cotton production. Production of upland types in the state represents about 4% of U.S. annual production on average.
In 1963, there were 299 active cotton gins in California, the highest ever. In 2011 there were 30 active gins, and now 24. Isom said the industry lost another gin in the Sacramento area in the past year.
Tomatoes are soggy too
Westside tomato growers are also facing soggy ground for their crop, according to published reports.
”With soil still too wet for planting, farmers postponed the season's start by three weeks, which could translate into a shortage of tomato-based items this summer," according to individual farmers and the California Tomato Growers Association.
“Flooding also delayed planting for fresh vegetables, which could lead to a national shortage of lettuce, brussel sprouts and artichokes," said Ryan Jacobsen, the CEO of the Fresno County Farm Bureau, a nonprofit group that promotes and protects agriculture.
Kings County growers worried just a few months ago about too little water, now find the ground is too wet to plant.