As global textile consumers demand higher quality goods, U.S. Pima producers look to meet that need with a keen focus on excellent fiber quality and consistent yields.
Derek Azevedo is executive vice president and chief operating officer for Bowles Farming in Los Banos, California. They farm 10,000 acres of cotton, vegetables, fruit and hay with most of the cotton acres planted to Pima varieties. Across all crops, Bowles Farming focuses on quality products grown with ethical, sustainable practices.
“With Pima cotton, you have to lead with fiber quality,” Azevedo said. “If you have excellent quality paired with the highest social and sustainability standards, it creates an opportunity to give discriminating customers a product they can be proud of and have confidence in.”
Bowles Farming works with programs such as the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol and the Better Cotton Initiative to support their commitment to sustainably produced cotton. These programs help cotton producers measure, track and improve sustainable agricultural practices and then market those benefits to the cotton supply chain.
While sustainability is important to their operation, the result must be a high quality product. To maintain excellent fiber quality, Azevedo said they rely on PhytoGen® brand Pima varieties because consistency is critical to their operation. In recent years, they’ve had success with PhytoGen® brand PHY 881 RF and newer PhytoGen® brand PHY 807 RF. Azevedo said they are excited to try PhytoGen® brand PHY 861 RF, newly released for 2023.
“We have been very happy with the predictability, dependability and consistency of the PhytoGen Pima varieties,” Azevedo said. “One of the challenges with evaluating cotton varieties is that some look great one year and then the next year they aren’t as good. But the PhytoGen varieties are really trustworthy and adaptable, whether we have a cool spring or a hot summer.”
Average Pima yields for Bowles Farming range between 1,700 and 2,000 lb./A, which Azevedo credits to three main pillars in their cotton production.
“We’re blessed with a really good production team,” Azevedo said. “You have to have a good team, the right varieties and the weather. The combination of those three elements is working well for us.”
Alan Noordman also farms in Los Banos, as a partner with David Santos Farms. Noordman said they planted more Acala varieties in the past, but he’s focused on Pima varieties in recent years due to the demand for high-quality Pima and the premiums offered for extra-long-staple cotton.
“We’ve been mostly Pima varieties for the last seven or eight years, mainly due to economics. We can make better profits because of the demand for Pima cotton and the premiums, so we’re in a position in the San Joaquin Valley to take advantage of the economic benefits of Pima.”
Noordman said the unique water availability in their area allows them to furrow irrigate, but they also have some drip fields. With their irrigation and PhytoGen brand Pima varieties, Noordman said their yields are consistent year to year, sometimes breaking the 4 bales/A mark.
“We’re shooting for at least 3.25 bales every year, and we can make that without any problem. In our area we often hit 4 bales,” Noordman said.
For varieties, he says PHY 881 RF is a proven performer, and newer PHY 807 is also producing top-end yields. In 2022, he was able to trial several experimental varieties on the farm, including PHY 861 RF.
“PHY 881 and PHY 807 are really good standards that we’ve grown, and they work really well in this area,” Noordman said. “And the newer PhytoGen Pimas are performing well too. Our experimental plot was planted next to one of our best fields of PHY 881 RF, and those varieties did very well — plant vigor, yield, and staple length all were very good.”
Consistency across state lines
Although California produces the lion’s share of U.S. Pima, Arizona growers such as a Matt Palmer are also capitalizing on the market demands for extra-long-staple cotton. Palmer grew up on VIP Farms, named after his grandfather Verle I. Palmer, and he said farming provides a unique satisfaction — working with your hands, watching the crop grow, and enjoying the payoff at harvest.
“Growing up, I couldn’t wait to get out of school and work on the farm. I knew that’s what I wanted to do in life," Palmer said. “I really enjoy cotton because it is such a unique crop, a unique plant with many ways to manipulate it to meet the yield and quality goals you have.”
Cotton producers such as Matt Palmer in Arizona say Pima varieties provide an opportunity for excellent return-on-investment. Palmer plants PhytoGen® brand varieties because of consistent seed vigor, yield potential and fiber quality. Photos by Steve Carter.
Those goals keep getting pushed higher and higher. Palmer used to aim for 2.5 bales/A on his Pima acres, but he’s pushed yields to 3 bales/A with recent PhytoGen brand varieties. That improvement in yield — combined with excellent quality — allows him to maximize his bottom line.
“We have to get better and more efficient. If you’re not improving, you will get left behind,” Palmer said. “That’s one of the reasons why we work with PhytoGen. Their breeding continues to get better and keeps inching up, and these newer Pima varieties can hit that 3-bale mark in our area.”
Palmer also highlighted the dependability of PhytoGen Pima varieties, explaining that he’s looking for consistency from planting to harvest — and at the gin.
“PhytoGen varieties have consistent germination, and they come out of the ground with good seedling vigor and grow consistently throughout the year,” Palmer said. “And quality is another thing you can count on with PhytoGen. We tend to think yield, yield, yield, but quality is just as important.
"When you can count on the same thing year in and year out, it's easier to plan. There are so many things we can't control. But with these PhytoGen Pima varieties, you know what you're going to get and that helps tremendously."