Several freshly harvested round bales of raw pima cotton ready for processing (Valley Ag Voice/Archive)

Natalie Willis, Reporter, Valley Ag Voice

Faced with an abnormally wet year, California cotton is down 11.4% from last year’s crop, making the U.S. cotton crop its smallest since 2009-2010. Growers faced a particularly hard year in pest management, with lygus plaguing the industry during the “worst year it’s ever seen,” according to a report from AgNet West. 

Roger Islom, president and CEO of the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association, told AgNet that damage from lygus was most severe in areas of Kern, Kings, Fresno, and Merced counties. 

“I’ve been told at least three fields – one in Merced County and two in Fresno – were completely abandoned,” Isom said. “They said, ‘Look, we haven’t even gotten into the aphid and whitefly season or the cost of defoliation, and I’m already going to lose money. So, I’m walking away from it.’” 

Lygus problems were expected due to a long, wet winter, allowing them to move into the valley and into cotton, Ian Grettenberger, assistant cooperative extension specialist at UC Davis, told AgNet. Managing the pest proved difficult for growers due to a lack of effective materials —  

According to Islom, the CCGGA board saw reports of up to 12 sprays for lygus as well as costs ranging from $30 an acre to $300 an acre to control the pest. 

Adult lygus pest. (Photo courtesy of University of California, IPM)

“If you’re using materials for lygus that are very disruptive of natural enemies, that means that any aphids or whiteflies that are already in the field or that are moving into the field may have a very hospitable place to land,” Grettenberger said. “They can reproduce very quickly and not have their offspring eaten by natural enemies that are in the field.” 

All cotton production in the U.S. is down 9% from 2022, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. Total Upland cotton production is also down 9%. California’s production dropped to fewer than 100,000 acres as a result of flooding in Tulare Lake, drastically reducing the national supply of Pima cotton. Production is down 24% percent from 2022 at 356,000 bales as most of the land that would have been planted with Pima was underwater, according to Valley Public Radio. 

According to Brian Marsh, farm advisor at the Kern County extension of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, several factors led to the decline in cotton acreage, chiefly the partial loss of the USDA price support package. 

“There’s less of a safety net,” Marsh said. “There’s still gonna be some Pima cotton acreage in California, but there’s a limit to how much Pima cotton can be marketed or has been marketed, so there’s kind of a natural marketing cap on that acreage.” 

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