Drought, nut crops contribute to shrinking cotton production in the Valley

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A long-time staple on Valley farms is shrinking on the agricultural landscape. (KFSN)

A long-time staple on Valley farms is shrinking on the agricultural landscape.

Much of the clothing we wear is made out of cotton, but this year's Central California cotton crop is the smallest since the 1920's. Cotton grew over one million acres in the Valley as recently as 1992. Last year the acreage was down to 210,000 acres.

Roger Isom of the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association says the crop being planted this season is even smaller. "Acreage wise not good. Our estimate is about 170,000 acres. USDA says we're going to be a little less than that."

Global demand for almonds, walnuts, pistachios and pecans has seen many growers either adding acres or expanding into the nut industry. But it's just one reason why we're seeing less cotton.

"The number one reason is water -- by far. If we had the water, even a 20% allocation, we'd be up in acreage," said Isom.

Fresno County Ag Commissioner Les Wright says with less water available, farmers seek the highest value crops. "So he's looking at what crop can I get the best return for that acre foot of water. Do I plant cotton which may return me maybe $300 an acre or do I plant tomatoes which may return me a thousand dollars an acre?"

But Isom believes the cotton trend reverse itself especially with the high quality pima variety grown here. "There's always going to be some cotton here. It's a great rotational crop with tomatoes and garlic and wheat."
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