Cotton is one of Arizona's "Five C's," the others being copper, citrus, climate and cattle, all of which are credited with building the state's economy up to and following statehood in 1912.
Cotton first became a major crop in Arizona during World War I when U.S. government officials were looking for sources for industrial fabric material for airplanes and other purposes.
Researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture came to Arizona to develop Long Staple Egyptian cotton which was quite strong and suitable for industrial uses. The boom resulted in production of tires and other heavy manufacturing items. Several national tire companies built factories in the state; indeed, the town of Goodyear was established in 1917 by the tire company of the same name, for its factory and employees.
By 1920 Arizona cotton was so valuable and so profitable that farmers in the state stopped producing almost all other crops to concentrate on cotton. However, when the war ended, the Arizona cotton boom also ended. It didn't disappear completely, however. There was a resurgence during and after World War II, and Arizona would eventually plant as many as 400,000 acres annually.
Much of the planted acreage has been taken over by urban sprawl. Phoenix suburbs to the east and west were almost all prime production acreage until development began taking over acres in the late '70s and early '80s. But cotton is still an important crop: the nation's Supima marketing offices are headquartered there. Calcot began marketing Arizona growers' cotton in 1955.
Arizona growers plant many different Upland and Pima varieties of cotton. In 2002-03 there were 213,000 acres of Upland harvested for 613,000 bales. There were 8,200 acres of Pima harvested for 17,300 bales. In 2002, 82 percent of the Arizona crop was planted to transgenic varieties including some with herbicide resistance. Researchers continue to study these cotton varieties, constantly in search of new and better cotton plants.
Arizona acreage is also utilized by a number of cottonseed breeding companies to produce seed that will be planted across the U.S., and indeed, the world.
Where is it grown?
In 2002 the cottons grown in Arizona were planted in Cochise, Graham, Greenlee, La Paz, Maricopa, Mohave, Pima, Pinal and Yuma counties. In 1997 Maricopa and Pinal accounted for over 71 percent of Arizona Upland acreage.
Like many areas of the U.S., Arizona cotton acreage has declined in recent years due to low prices and water concerns. In 2002, Upland acreage was down 80,000 acres, totaling just 215,000 acres planted. Pima was up just 500 acres for a total of 8,300 acres planted. These numbers are in sharp contrast to years like 1997 when over 824,000 bales of Upland were produced in the state compared to over 598,000 in 2002.
In 2002 yields on short staple cottons were at 1,381 pounds, up 239 pounds while long staple yields were at 1,013 pounds, up 85 pounds. The value of Upland cottons that year was over $131 million while the value of Pima production was over $6 million.
Not only do Arizona farmers produce cotton lint, but cottonseed is also derived from the cotton plant and used for cattle feed and to make oils. In 2002 Arizona produced 232,400 tons of cottonseed for a production value of over $29 million.
The National cotton council notes Arizona has 409 farms, with average acreage of 545 acres. The value of the lint alone is $160 million. The entire processing, distribution and utilization chain means 11,000 jobs and $430 million in business revenue.