“We had some of the first drip irrigation in the area, and we saw the benefits.”

They’ve reduced tillage over the past few years as well. “We’re not quite to minimum-till,” he says, “but we have reduced-tillage.”

They also use reclaimed wastewater to irrigate some fields. “We filter it and put it through the drip irrigation system.”

His sons, Doug and Matt, work with him as partners on the farm. “It’s what they want to do,” he says. “And where else but a farm can you have the opportunity for parents to work so closely with their children?”

Far West winner

While many cotton producers fight drought, root rot and other agronomic woes, this year’s High Cotton winner from the Far West is also fighting to present the environmentally-sustainable side of the cotton industry to the public.

Chad Crivelli of Dos Palos, Calif., takes advantage of every opportunity to improve the environmental footprint of his family’s cotton operation in Merced County and to show that cotton growers are being proactive.

Since 1999, the Crivellis have been part of the San Joaquin Valley Sustainable Cotton Project, which not only works with growers to develop new, reduced cost and low environmental impact cotton-growing techniques, but also to extol the virtues of sustainable farming practices to those who buy SJV cotton.

“Chad has been an advocate and a public face of the cotton-growing community to hundreds of consumers, educators and fashion industry representatives who have toured valley cotton fields in the past decade,” says Marcia Gibbs, director of the sustainable cotton project.

Pete Goodell, University of California IPM advisor, says, “Chad meets with people during field trips to share the story about sustainable cotton. He is a great spokesperson for urban folks who don’t understand what’s going on in cotton industry. He represents the cotton industry incredibly well.”

“Chad is a very progressive farmer,” says Matt Whittaker, Helena Chemical Co. pest control adviser at Merced, Calif. “He stays up-to-date on new technologies, and practices solid IPM strategies and sound fertility programs. He is very innovative and fast to act on opportunities.”

Next year if prices increase, he could go up to 700 acres of cotton on his family’s 1,800-acre operation. Their other crops in 2012 included processing tomatoes, alfalfa, corn, melons, vegetables and 40 acres of permanent pomegranates. In the past, he has also grown chili, small grains, organic Pima cotton and hybrid Hazera cotton.

When cotton prices fall, Chad considers himself fortunate to have economic alternatives.

“Twenty years, ago 90 percent of the land around here was cotton after cotton,” says Bill. “We used to be happy with 3-bale, maybe 3-1/2 bale cotton. Now, we shoot for four bales, and a lot of that is due to the good rotation programs we currently use.”

flaws@farmpress.com

EDITOR’S NOTE — Over the next several days this website will have more in-depth looks at the production practices of each of these four growers. The first article, featuring the Southeast’s Linwood Vick, will appear tomorrow.