Cotton harvest on the go in Valley By Paul Giblin, Tribune December 8, 2005 Wispy dust drifting along Loop 101 is an annual sign of agricultural activity on Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community land just east of Scottsdale.

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Farmers are taking advantage of dry weather to harvest cotton.

"This is harvest time," said Rick Lavis, executive vice president of the Arizona Cotton Growers Association. "It depends on the judgment of your crop; whether youre ready to go or not."

In Maricopa and Pinal counties, the harvest season typically spans late October to late December or early January.

Valley cotton farmers are now rushing to complete their harvests before Christmas.

They prepare their crops by halting irrigation for a week or two to dry the knee-high plants. Then, cotton-picking machines strip lint from the brittle leaves and twigs.

Heavy rain, which is expected by January, can complicate the harvest two ways. Muddy fields hamper machinery and rain can knock the lint to the ground, making it harder to collect.

Statewide projections call for a good harvest, though perhaps slightly off last years, said Steve Manheimer, director of the Arizona field office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Farmers have planted 240,000 acres of upland cotton, which should produce 650,000 bales of product; and 4,000 acres of Pima cotton, which should generate 8,000 bales, he said.

Farmers try to keep dust to a minimum by harvesting on low-wind days, making just one pass with their machines and dampening fields, said Kevin Rogers of Mesa-based Rogers Brothers Farm, which has operations around the Valley.

Arizona cotton is known for its high yields and fine quality because of the long, summer growing season, Lavis said.

Arizona farmers usually produce 1,200 pounds of cotton per acre, about 50 percent higher than the national average, he said.

However, the amount of cotton grown in Maricopa County has been in decline in recent years, Lavis said.

"Most of the cotton now is going to Pinal County. What we grow now is houses damned expensive houses, too," he said. Contact Paul Giblin by email, or phone (480) 970-2331

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