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Water shortage impacting California cotton farmers

Cotton Farming in California (FILE)
Cotton Farming in California (FILE)
Cotton Farming in California (FILE)
Cotton Farming in California (FILE)
Cotton Farming in California (FILE)
Posted at 5:12 PM, May 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-24 21:13:39-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The California Department of Food and Agriculture says that more than 90% of the cotton harvested in California has been grown in the San Joaquin Valley but continuing dry weather is posing significant challenges for growers.

Consumer demand is driving the market for cotton, including high-quality Pima cotton now reaching record levels of more than $3 a pound. But as California faces another dry year many farmers in Kern County are impacted not only by an increase in price but also by a decrease in production.

“This isn’t just any drought. We’re looking at a really bad situation,” said Roger Isom, CEO of the Cotton Ginners and Growers Association.

It is a concern for our farmers who work day in and day out in year-round in the fields.

“It is one of those things that are really tough for us. If you ever in your entire lifetime wanted to grow cotton, 2022 would be the year. Unfortunately, we just don’t have the water to do it,” added Isom.

Isom says that this year - with the limitation of surface water – there is very little supply for farmers to keep up with the consumer command of cotton.

“Normally, we would have 600 to 700,000 bales of cotton. We do not have that. We had 300,000. We’re coming out of the COVID pandemic so people are actually starting to buy clothes again. That demand matching that very low supply has driven the price up.”

Bryan Bone, a farmer in the city of Shafter, adds that because cotton is one of the last crops planted, it is often the one that gets cut out of the planting schedule when water is limited.

“Compared to the permanent crops, those are committed already and so the water is committed to those and that is where the water goes first. It could go either way. If there is water available then it could be planted but if not that’d be the first one to go.”

Due to a limited amount of cotton acreage for the harvest Bone says there is a concern that low cotton volumes won't be able to support the state's remaining commercial cotton gins.

“I think there is only about 50 operating gins now in California. Then the question is, are those going to be supported with the reduced acres? Hopefully, we get more and hopefully they will be supported but it’s still unknown.”

Bone adds that the drought has not only affected the production of cotton locally but a limitation in overall acreage has also taken place on cotton fields as you see here. Local farmers like Bone are hoping for more surface water to help with their irrigation systems.