The good news in Georgia is that cotton is on the rebound for 2010.
In fact, our state’s cotton acreage has regained some of the acres it lost to grain crops in 2006. Maybe that isn’t a significant fact to some folks out there, but it is certainly important to cotton farmers in my part of the world.
How far have we come in this state? Consider this fact. In 1981, we had 180,000 cotton acres in Georgia. By 2005, that number had risen to 1.5 million acres. I think those numbers speak for themselves.
We’ve seen our share of ups and down in Georgia cotton production, but there is no question that we have a proud history.
My first crop was in 1986 after I graduated from the University of Georgia with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture. I’m not sure how much that degree helped me, but it proved I could finish the job at hand. I was proud to have made both Dean’s Lists – the good one and even the bad one.
Enough about my academic record.
The first time that cotton made a big comeback in our hometown of Leary was on my Uncle Bill’s farm. My other uncle, Bob McLendon, went to look at Bill’s field and decided to buy corn seed! So much for him being impressed with what he saw.
The real motivation for farmers in our area to move into cotton was the nematode problem in our peanuts. It took only one more year for Uncle Bob to decide to plant cotton. He hired a sharecropper to grow the crop, and then he watched and observed for the next year. One year later, he took over, and he’s never looked back.
Any talk about cotton’s gradual improvement in Georgia can’t ignore the impact of boll weevil eradication. We were spraying our cotton fields 12 times a year to control the weevil, but all of that changed when the weevil was eradicated. This is when cotton acreage really started to increase in the state. And, because cotton is such a good rotation crop, our peanut acreage started to increase.
How significant was the boll weevil eradication program? I remember one summer morning while working at the farm and attending college that Harvey Norton (who worked for my grandfather and then Uncle Bob for 40 years) said he woke up to a loud noise behind the house in the cotton field. We asked him if he found out what it was, and he said it was a mama boll weevil beating her son because he was only taking one row at a time!
That’s a funny story, but it ought to tell any outsider how important it was for cotton farmers to eliminate that deadly insect pest.
Cotton is such an important crop for our small communities. The biggest boom for rural Georgia is how many times a bale of cotton turns over in the local economy. That doesn’t happen with grain crops. You could al-most say cotton is an economic stimulus for rural Georgia when cotton is king.
We did dip down under one million acres in 2008 but came back to one million acres in 2009, and I think we’ll always be at that level or higher for the foreseeable future. Frankly, our state never has deserted cotton. We surpassed the one million acre mark in 1995 and only dropped below that level once in the past 14 years.
Viewed from any angle, it appears that our farmers are ready to jump back into cotton in a big way. We were on the corn bandwagon for a couple of years, but there were hidden costs in that crop – especially if you didn’t have the infrastructure to harvest it. In other words, there was a lot of risk.
So, it reminds me of what our old farm friend Harvey Norton said about farming in the Great Depression years: “Use it up...wear it out...make it do...or do without.”
We miss old Harvey, but his words of wisdom ring true. Our farmers love to grow cotton, and the future definitely looks brighter today.
– Jimmy Webb, Leary, Ga.