Rosie on the House: Arizona Cotton Facts We Can’t Ignore
According to USDA-NASS, the 2021 Arizona cotton acreage was 115,000; earlier in 2012 we planted as many as 200,000 acres of cotton in Arizona. One of Arizona’s 5 C’s, our cotton acreage was only 75,000 acres of upland cotton this year, a decrease of 12,000 acres from the previous year. Swings in planted acres are influenced by the price of cotton per pound, some Pinal County farmers fallowing a percentage of their land due to available water, the better market prices for alfalfa, and other factors. Simple crop rotations can influence it as well.
And, in this last year, USDA reported that cotton alone generated $200 million in cash receipts (2021-2022 cotton season).
Arizona cotton farmer DeAnna Diwan, based in Pinal County, recently shared a rich family history on the Rosie on the House Show this last Saturday. “Like his father before him, dad knows the soil in and out,” she said. “The farming now is me and my father. I didn’t even take FFA in school, I took French. A friend helped me realize that my passion is agriculture.”
Deanna Diwan's grandfather came over with the family as a little boy through
the Arizona Cotton Growers Association employment program.
Their favorite crop is cotton and are close to harvest. “The cotton harvest is like Christmas to me,” said Diwan.
For all Arizona cotton producers, they are expected to harvest 210,000 bales worth of upland cotton from those 75,000 Arizona acres this year, the lowest production since 1946. Yields are expected to average 1,344 pounds per acre, yields that are still two and three times higher than other cotton-growing states.
While cotton’s footprint in Arizona has shrunk in terms of acres planted (in earlier decades as much as 500,000 to 600,000 acres of cotton in Arizona were planted), the story of cotton in our state continues to resonate with Arizona families. Here are a few facts to keep in mind.
- Even though cotton is over 5,000 years old, the people who grew and used it throughout the globe never met each other. Some of them even lived on different sides of an ocean, but astonishingly enough, they still managed to develop similar tools to clean, prepare, spin, and weave this natural fiber.
- Cotton seeds are tough enough to survive travel across oceans on the wind. This could explain how botanists are not sure where the first cotton plants came from, and probably why similar varieties sometimes grow thousands of miles apart. But it does explain why the Hohokam Indian tribe was growing it thousands of years ago here in the southwest. Arizona is cotton country on an ancient scale!
- Despite its well-earned reputation of casual comfort, the actual word "cotton" is an English version of the Arabic "qutun" or "kutun," a generic term meaning fancy fabric. One of cotton's original popular names was "vegetable wool."
- Cotton is a sustainable and renewable fiber. Typically, the seed is planted in the spring and harvested in the fall once the green bolls have opened to produce the fluffy, white fiber (a long-season growing crop; compared to 60 days for lettuce to mature).
- Over the years, seed varieties of cotton continued to improve. Next year, Bt cotton (Biotech) will complete 28 years of cultivation in the United States. Despite the challenges of misinformation in the public forum, this seed technology has enjoyed the confidence of farmers, researchers, and policymakers. Bt cotton has not only benefited farmers but also the textile industry, and oil industry and boosted economies throughout the globe. This genetically modified seed has saved countless billions in pesticide use and improved cotton yields as destructive pests were eradicated.
- We’ve been growing cotton in Arizona since the Hohokam, a prehistoric North American indigenous people group who lived approximately A.D. 1 to 1,450 in the semiarid region of present-day central and southern Arizona, largely along the Gila and Salt Rivers. Their original canal systems mapped the way for our modern-day systems.
- People forget that cotton is also a food product. The cottonseed oil produced from the harvested seed crop is considered a healthy cooking oil and chefs love it for its high flashpoint (can heat the oil higher than olive oil without burning it) and because it’s tasteless. Additionally, crushed cotton seed is used to feed livestock.
- Cotton is 100% biodegradable and compostable. Under aerobic or anaerobic conditions cotton wipes made of cotton will biodegrade completely in 4 weeks.
- The American South owes its success in the peanut-growing industry to cotton---sort of. The boll weevil created an economic crisis all over the American South by laying its eggs in the cotton bolls, destroying much of the crops in the process. Enterprise, Alabama cotton farmers watched this insect destruction helplessly until someone suggested they try growing peanuts instead, which is now one of their most successful crop products in the south! In the meantime, a boll weevil eradication program has nearly wiped out the little pest that created a big problem.
- Cotton was originally not only grown in white but in assorted other colors including brown, rust, and light purple. When mechanical processing methods (think the Industrial Age) were introduced it was easier to maintain color consistency by using only white-fibered plants.
- Arizona cotton, along with California cotton, is some of the whitest, highest-quality cotton in the nation. One main reason is that Arizona and California irrigate the cotton fields. With so little rainfall in the southwest, the cotton fiber is not at risk for compromised quality due to wind and rain.
- One of the finest extra-long staple (ELS) cotton was developed and grown right here in Arizona. The USDA in Sacaton, Arizona, had an ELS breeding program that helped develop the ELS cotton.
We also have a lot to celebrate when it comes to cotton’s environmental footprint. According to Cotton Incorporated, the following ecological benefits should be celebrated.
- Soil conservation where cotton is grown has increased by reducing soil loss by 68%.
- Water used to grow cotton accounts for only about 3% of the world’s agricultural water use.
- In the U.S. 64% of the cotton is grown by naturally falling rainfall and irrigation water use has declined by 75%. In Arizona and California, managed irrigation waters the crops with improved methods that have reduced water use by as much as 50% to 60%.
- Cotton has a neutral greenhouse gas footprint.
- In fact, the amount of CO2 removed by cotton plants worldwide from the air is equivalent to taking 7 million cars off the road.
- In the U.S., there has been a 50% reduction in the number of pesticide applications over the last 25 years.
- Pesticides are used by farmers to stabilize yields and produce an abundant and affordable supply of food and fiber.
“We are really good at growing crops including a wonderful climate here in Arizona,” says Diwan. “We are still very passionate about agriculture from generation to generation.”
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