What is in this article?:
- In recognition of his leadership in California agriculture, and his accomplishments in cotton production, Don Cameron, Helm, Calif., was selected as winner of the 2012 Farm Press/Cotton Foundation High Cotton Award for the Western states.
- His farming career has been an ongoing initiative in reclamation, over time fostering a cornucopia of crops. Soil amendments — gypsum, soil sulfur and occasionally sulfuric acid — along with persistent salt leaching and application of 35,000 tons of chicken litter annually from nearby poultry operations, have created land that will grow just about anything.
DON CAMERON inspects a recently delivered load of disposable drip irrigation tape. It is an inexpensive way to irrigate. At the end of the season, the tape is deposited in metal bins and hauled to the recycler.
Pima is now the predominant variety in the valley, and “has kept cotton in California,” Cameron says. “When upland prices went so far down, premium Pima prices kept us in cotton.” This year, Cameron is chairman of Supima, the grower supported marketing and promoting organization for American Pima cotton.
Pima had been grown in Arizona for decades before it came into the valley, and didn’t yield as well as upland varieties — generally about 60 percent of what desert growers could produce from upland cotton.
Cameron recalls that his peers in the desert sarcastically wished California cotton growers “good luck” growing Pima. But, Pima did much better in California.
The Extra Long Staple (ELS) cotton does well on heavy ground, of which there is plenty in the valley. Cameron likes Pima because he says it can tolerate water stress better than Acala.
“You can hold back water more with Pima and set more bolls that with Acala. Once Acala blooms out the top, it will not recover. Pima will set more bolls with stress — it’s more forgiving than Acala.”
Although Pima has been a godsend for many cotton growing areas of the valley, it isn’t suited everywhere. “We have lighter ground where Pima will not do well, so we still need Acala for the valley,” Cameron says.
Acala has actually benefitted from Pima, which is roller-ginned versus saw-ginned. Growers, marketers and ginners have discovered that certain roller-ginned Acala varieties can demand a nice 10 to 12 cents per pound premium from textile mills, which utilize it for its stronger, longer fiber. Saw-ginned SJV Acala still has demand in the world market as well.
Cameron believes with Pima and roller-ginned Acala, the valley is returning to its place of prominence as a high quality cotton producing area, assuring cotton a future in the valley.
As loyal as he is to cotton, he knows it must compete economically with other field crops, which it has been able to do lately with the growing use of drip irrigation that has increased yields and reduced costs.
Drip arrived in California in the mid-1970s from Israel, where it was developed. Now, virtually all new orchards and vineyards are established with some sort of micro-irrigation system. Thousands of acres of established permanent crops have also been converted to micro-irrigation to save water and labor.
In recent years, growers have adapted the technology for field crops, most notably high value crops like tomatoes, obtaining amazing yield increases and water savings. Because of the need for rotation, cotton has also benefited from this trend.