Although he has more years of experience, W. Bruce Heiden, who finished his 58th crop in 2010, is still one of the most progressive and forward thinking cotton producers in the Far West, according to Western Farm Press editors Harry Cline and Cary Blake.

Heiden has faced numerous challenges, ranging from multiple insect pests that threatened not only to reduce yield, but to take markets from Arizona cotton to urban encroachment that has only slowed down with the recession in the national economy.

Peter Ellsworth, University of Arizona IPM specialist, one of several who nominated Heiden for the High Cotton award, said Heiden has not only managed to survive the challenges, but excelled during those periods. “Even in the years when we struggled to control pink bollworm or later to control whitefly, Bruce’s production was always among the highest.”

Ellsworth said Heiden was a leader in helping the industry move through technology changes, including Bt cotton. He was instrumental in getting new insect growth regulators registered to turn back the whitefly, a pest Heiden said was the most devastating insect to befall Arizona cotton producers.

The whitefly not only caused yield loss, it created sticky cotton from the honeydew secreted by the hordes of whiteflies. That was more devastating than the pest because Arizona growers could not sell any of their cotton. Textile mills refused to buy Arizona cotton…sticky or not.

“We used to be able to forward contract, but when the whitefly came in, no one would buy Arizona cotton unless it was tested in the warehouse and certified free of stickiness,” Heiden said. He and other growers took an Asian mill tour to talk with buyers and explain to them that not all Arizona cotton was sticky and what growers were doing to control whiteflies.

“The cost of water in many areas is very high. Inputs keep going up. We saw $1 cotton in 2008 and are seeing it again now, but overall the price of cotton has been low over the past three or four years. It has not been high enough to sustain cotton in Arizona.”

flaws@farmpress.com