||California’s first commercial cotton sprouted in 1862 in what would later become Kern County (where Calcot is headquartered today), but the San Joaquin Valley didn’t earn its reputation as a producer of “white gold” until the next century, after World War I, when the federal government wanted extra long staple cotton for military applications.
The government sent a South Carolina cotton specialist, D.B. Camp, out west of Bakersfield and waited to see how the fibrous crop took to the Golden State. Nearly a decade later, Kern County’s fledgling cotton growers banded together into a cooperative in an effort to negotiate fair prices.
The homegrown group began as the San Joaquin Cotton Growers in Delano in 1927 and has been headquartered in Bakersfield since 1931. The co-op grew out of a Delano grower’s frustration over the middlemen in the cotton industry.
In 1926, Capt. Frank E. Green had a lunch meeting in a Delano hotel, where he pitched the idea of a growers’ cooperative to his peers. The grape and cotton farmer had been mulling the idea since 1922, when the Capper-Volstead Act passed, allowing farmers to form cooperative groups without violating anti-trust laws.
Before the act, growers had little power to negotiate cotton deals, nor could they protect themselves from unscrupulous arrangements such as excessive ginning charges, unfair prices, and unethical sampling and grading. If a grower objected to a firm’s offerings or angered the cotton merchants, he risked being cut off from financing, and if he lost financing, he was out of farming.
Other California cooperatives seemed to be thriving, including Sunkist, Blue Diamond, Sun Maid and Diamond Walnuts. Those farmers in attendance liked Green’s proposal to form an organization that would try to guarantee the cotton grower’s product was sold right, and that he gets the maximum price. The group soon started recruiting more growers and acreage for the association.
By February 1927, the group’s support base had swelled to 25,000 acres. On Feb. 23, 1927, the forerunner of Calcot held its first valleywide meeting of 151 growers at the Delano Theater.
The cooperative moved to Bakersfield in 1931 because Kern County was the largest cotton producer in the state and many cotton buyers frequented hotels and other establishments in Bakersfield.( Plus, always conscious of saving money, the association stood to save $2,500 a year if it moved to the private grounds of a cotton compress company in Bakersfield.)
The grower owned association changed its name after the move to the California Cotton Cooperative Association. That lengthy name was later shortened to Calcot, Limited. (Limited refers to the limitations of financial liability on the part of the association to its individual members.)
The organization expanded in 1955 into Arizona, adding additional warehousing in Fresno, Glendale, Arizona, and California’s Imperial Valley. The Imperial and Fresno facilities were closed in the 1990s, due to shrinking volume as cotton competes with other crops. But Calcot is still expanding, having added growers in the late ‘90s from the Sacramento Valley in Califronia, as well as growers in South Texas in 2005. In 2006, Far West Texas and New Mexico members came on board with the acquisition of SWIG, another cotton marketing cooperative.
Calcot today sells as many as one million bales annually to more than 30 countries worldwide on behalf of its grower-members in California , Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.