California's Velcro Crop under Challenge (1993)by Ken Umbach
California's important Velcro crop, vital to the clothing, footwear, and
sporting goods industries, has been severely stressed by drought, disease, and
BackgroundVelcro?, an engineered crop, consists of two distinct
strains: hooks and loops. As any user of Velcro knows, a strip of hooks clings
to a strip of loops as the springy hook-shaped fibers latch through tiny but
firm loops. Gentle pressure allows the hook strip to be pulled from the loop
strip. The user may repeat the process time and again, making this product a
convenient, versatile replacement for zippers, buttons, snaps, laces, and other
forms of fastener in wide-ranging applications.
California's climate and soil conditions make the state an ideal venue for
and successful producer of both strains of Velcro. For obvious reasons, of
course, the hook strain must be grown in fields separated from those with the
loop strain. This is often accommodated by widely spacing separate fields of the
two strains among large expanses of cotton, alfalfa, or other crops.
For competitive and industrial confidentiality reasons, of course, the crop
is not widely highlighted in crop reports. A little Velcro goes a long way, as
both strains are densely packed on their respective mature plants, and the
entire crop is dwarfed by other field crops, most notably cotton. Nonetheless,
the crop is of high value and can be a substantial profit builder for the
The IssuesThree issues have conspired to threaten and diminish the crop
in California's southern San Joaquin Valley, especially drought-affected Kern
- Dry and windy conditions have caused hook and loop spores to commingle
even across widely spaced fields, resulting in tangled Velcro bolls combining
both strains and unprocessable by any known means.
- Invasions of disease and pests have damaged the crop. Specifically (1) the
flaccidity virus has resulted in weakened hooks, unable to hold adequately or
even to snap through the corresponding loops, and (2) the pest millipedus
minisculus, or 'tiny thousand-footed creature', has multiplied in the
Velcro fields, frequently becoming so ensnared in the developing loops as to
make the crop unharvestable.
Crop management for Velcro is made
especially difficult by the need to outfit field workers head-to-toe in Teflon?
jumpsuits. (The Teflon crop is another issue, to be tackled in a future report
in this series.) Absent such protection, field workers are in danger of becoming
enmeshed in the Velcro bolls while working the fields. Clothing and even body
hair may become entangled with the hooks or loops, requiring difficult
extraction procedures. The Teflon jumpsuits in turn require personal cooling
equipment and expensive maintenance. When available, it is preferable to hire a
crew composed entirely of professional body builders, who are both strong and
hairless from head to toe.
- Drought has both limited water for the westside Velcro fields and
exacerbated crop-stunting salinity.
All in all, cultivation is a demanding and costly process, making profit
margins unusually vulnerable to price swings and crop productivity losses.
StatusAs the chart and table below so starkly show, the combined
assaults on the Velcro crop have had marked effects.
RecommendationsIn view of the singular nature of this specialized crop
and its high contribution, when successful, to the financial well-being of the
farmers who have the tenacity to grow it:
The respective agricultural commissioners and extension personnel
should emphasize proper spacing requirements for fields of the hook and loop
strains. Research, training, and inspection are all necessary.
Responsible officials should redouble efforts to eradicate flaccidity virus
and millipedus minisculus.
Water officials should accommodate the special needs of this high value
crop in determining allocations, especially in years of water
By these means, it should be possible to restore the vigor, productivity, and
profitability of this specialized but significant crop.
Postscript (December 1996). The return of
relatively normal rainfall patterns, together with sunspot conditions that have
decimated flaccidity virus and millipedus minisculus, have contributed to a
strengthened Velcro crop, but no one knows what the future might bring. Consider
investing in zippers and buttons.