Demand is down for California cotton

Sep 23, 2009

California farmers are known for growing some of the world's finest cotton. Even though, production has been on a steady downward decline since a high of 1.3 million acres in 1979. This year, only about 200,000 acres of California cotton are being cultivated.

The drop can be attributed to a number of factors, according to an article today in AgAlert about the repercussions for the cotton ginning industry. Nearly two-thirds of the cotton gins that operated in California 10 years ago have closed.

Severe water shortages, competition from other countries, high input costs, the worldwide economic crisis are undermining the throne of California's King Cotton.

AgAlert assistant editor Christine Souza spoke to UC Cooperative Extension cotton specialist Bob Hutmacher for the story.

"One of the things that has not helped in the last couple of years is some of the prime production areas for cotton are where we have had these tremendous water limitations," Hutmacher was quoted in the article. "That punched the daylights out of cotton acreage as much or more than anything else."

Hutmacher is director of UC's West Side Research and Extension Center, which sits in the heart of cotton country. Like neighboring farmers, the center received only 10 percent of its normal water allocation this summer and had to tap its deep wells and cut production during the summer to keep research projects on track.

California's long-fiber cottons allow manufacturers to make luxurious high-thread-count linens and soft yet strong t-shirts. But around the world, consumers are keeping their clothing longer and opting for lower-quality cotton products that don't depend so much on California's superior product.

"Part of it is the varieties and part of it is the climate, but one of the things that California still can do better than just about anybody is produce a world-class-quality cotton crop," Hutmacher said.

Third-generation cotton farmer Steve Wilbur of Tulare hasn't given up hope.

"There is a future, we just don't know what it looks like," he was quoted.

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By Jeannette E. Warnert
Author - Communications Specialist