Looking at bright side of troubling cotton industry


Keith Deputy, left, New Mexico and Texas cotton producer, presents Jesse Curlee, retiring Supima president-CEO, with a seldom-awarded ‘Man of the Year’ award for his leadership with the association over the past 36 years.

The finest Acala Upland and Extra Long Staple (ELS) Pima cottons in the world are produced in California. Fiber buyers worldwide know them well as the finest cotton around for producing premium textiles.

However, factors far from the turn-rows are pressuring that enviable position to the point that even the most optimistic in the industry are admitting concern for the future of California cotton because acreage is disappearing faster than a spinning 4,000-rpm picker spindle.

Nevertheless, those at the recent annual gatherings of the Western Cotton Shippers Association (WCSA) and Supima in Coalinga, Calif. were enveloped in cautiously optimistic outlooks for Western cotton despite a disheartening list of challenges facing the row crop that was once king of the Western crops.

These challenges include:

  • Four years of drought and a most uncertain economic and availability future for irrigation water, and unrelenting competition from other crops that offer many times the income potential of cotton at basically the same production costs;
  • World cotton market competition from China where the government is sitting on 50 percent or more of the world’s cotton carryover not just for one season, but every year for the past four years and for the foreseeable future;
  • A Southern California dock strike that sent world cotton mills sourcing cotton outside the U.S.;
  • The fallout from a massive world cotton overproduction four years ago fueled by pie-in-the sky prices that sent textile mills scurrying away from cotton to manmade fibers. And cotton has yet to recover its losses.

California Upland cotton acreage this year is a mere 46,000, down another 10,000 acres from last year, according to Kevin McDermott, WCSA president and vice president/senior manager of Jess Smith and Sons, cotton merchant based in Bakersfield, Calif.

It peaked in 1979 at 1.6 million acres of Upland cotton and was as much as 1 million acres just 18 years ago.

Half of the 2015 acreage is in Merced and Madera counties in the northern area of the San Joaquin Valley (SJV) cotton-growing region with only a smattering of acreage in the valley’s other four southern counties.

Source: Cotton