What is in this article?:
• In recognition of his leadership in California agriculture, and his accomplishments in cotton production, Cameron was selected as winner of the 2012 Farm Press/Cotton Foundation High Cotton Award for the Western states.
DON CAMERON inspects a recently delivered load of disposable drip irrigation tape. It is an inexpensive way to irrigate. At the end of the season, the tape is deposited in metal bins and hauled to the recycler.
Most challenging crop to grow
Cotton is probably the most challenging crop to grow organically, he says, primarily because of weed control costs.
It was costing $450 to $600 per acre for hand weeding of furrow-irrigated, organic Pima. When he switched to drip, it cut his weeding bill to $227 in 2009. Unfortunately, early spring rains in 2011 sprouted many more weeds and the hand-weeding cost jumped back to $563 per acre.
He has to germinate weeds and mechanically take them out before planting organically certified cotton. Weeds continue to be a challenge after establishment, but with drip, he says, there are far fewer weeds to contend with during the season.
With 26 crops, it is obvious Cameron enjoys challenges. Organic cotton is definitely one, but he believes there is a lucrative market for it. And he goes right to the buyer to sell it.
He invited a group from an organic cotton apparel manufacturing firm to his farm a couple of years ago to show off not just his organic cotton, but conventional cotton as well. It wasn’t just conventional cotton, though — it was genetically modified, herbicide-resistant cotton.
“We drove by a field of biotech cotton, and you would have thought it was radioactive the way they reacted,” he laughs. “They were a rather opinionated group.
“We invited these clearly anti-GMO people to the farm to, first, be transparent about what we are doing and, second, to show them that farmers need to have choices.
“They told me organic cotton uses less water. I showed them that it doesn’t, because we have to pre-germinate weeds so we can get rid of them before we plant. That takes more water than conventional cotton.
“We also pointed out to them that we don’t have to spray biotech trait cotton as much for pests, and that biotech crops are more environmentally friendly.”
Biotech traits can also save a crop, he says. A case in point was a Roundup-resistant Pima (PhytoGen 805RF) field he planted late in 2011 due to a cold, wet spring. Weeds overran the plants at emergence, and he was considering replanting.
“The field was thick with nutgrass — you could hardly see the cotton. I treated twice with Roundup, and the cotton came on strong. It turned out to be one of my best fields; it went over 3 bales.”
Cameron says he probably will never know if he changed any minds in the anti-GMO group that visited his farm, but he believes it was worth the effort to try.
“If we can sway one person to support us down the road when we have an issue, it’s worth the effort,” he says.