In the Southeast, climate, soil type and rotation schemes favor cotton production. That’s why cotton acres do not fluctuate as much in this area, especially in the second largest cotton production state of Georgia. In 2010, the area is again expected to hold steady on acreage or increase cautiously. That is, unless the price makes a big jump.
David Ruppenicker, executive vice president of Southern Cotton Growers, which represents thousands of cotton producers throughout the Southeast, says Georgia planted almost one million acres in 2009.
“I really don’t anticipate their acres dropping off or increasing very much,” he says. “However, of the other five states I work with – Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia – I see fairly significant acreage increases in 2010 because these five states cut their cotton acres substantially in the past three years.
“Peanuts are a perfect rotation with cotton and vice versa. Since Southeast producers grow most of the peanuts, cotton will always be in the mix.”
In Alabama, Charles Burmester, Extension agronomist with Auburn University, expects cotton acres to increase in 2010.
“Producers may increase from 250,000 acres to 300,000 acres, mainly because of decreased corn acreage due to lower corn prices and the need to rotate,” he says. “However, cotton prices must move up some more to get more grower interest.”
David Wright, University of Florida Extension agronomist, says producers will also plant more cotton acres in 2010 because of improved prices and the need to rotate.
“Cotton and peanuts are mainstays in most of our sandy soils,” he says. “Where irrigation is not available, cotton and peanut withstand droughts better than corn or soybeans.”
Wright says that dryland corn producers have had some tough times with dry areas of Florida for the past three years, and cotton requires less fertilizer inputs than corn.
“Growers who have cotton equipment need to make payments and are set up for harvest, whereas the drying capacity for both corn and soybeans has diminished over the past decade along with fewer combines,” he adds.
Alternative Varieties Found
A concern of producers has been what variety to plant, but Wright says some of the newer varieties of cotton look good and have the potential to equal the yields of DPL 555.
Georgia producer Jimmy Webb says his acreage ratio won’t change from roughly one-third peanuts, cotton and corn – a system that works well in his farm operation.
“I cut my cotton production back to a more manageable acre figure when corn prices jumped up,” he says. “I had always grown some corn but not as much as I have now. I had gotten to the point of really having too many cotton acres, so it has helped me do a better job growing cotton.”
Webb says he likes having corn in the rotation with cotton and peanuts, which also helps to spread out the busy times of planting and harvest.
“I am in on a co-op gin, so we keep cotton in our mix,” he says. “It has been tough, but now it will be much better with prices moving up.”
Price Point Reached
In the Carolinas and Virginia, Ruppenicker says producers have increased peanut acres for the past three years, leading him to believe farmers will rotate acres to cotton. He also points to a winter crop as a sign of increased cotton acres.
“It is my understanding that we did not plant as much winter wheat this fall. That is good news for cotton because almost 100 percent of wheat acres are double cropped with soybeans in the spring,” he says.
Furthermore, Ruppenicker points to better prices.
“The futures price for 2010 and beyond bodes well for increased cotton acres, but it is still extremely expensive to grow as compared to corn and soybeans,” he adds. “With soybean futures trading consistently above $10 per bushel, farmers will likely still devote sizable acres in the region to soybeans. That’s why I don’t think cotton will come back with a vengeance.”
A cautious increase is better because a sizable increase would push prices down more quickly. The Southeast’s growing climate tends to favor cotton.
Climate Favors Cotton
“Drought year in and year out is much more likely to occur in the Southeast than the bountiful rain experienced in 2009,” Ruppenicker says. “Soybeans, like corn, are extremely susceptible to drought.
“Approximately 40 percent of Georgia’s farmland is irrigated, which is significantly higher than any other Southeast state. Growing dryland corn, and even soybeans for that matter, can be extremely risky.”
Stanley Culpepper, University of Georgia Extension weed scientist, reminds producers of the need to consider herbicide-resistant weeds in their production systems.
“Traditionally, growers selected cotton cultivars based on agronomic characteristics such as yield and fiber quality,” he says. “In Georgia for 2010, agronomic characteristics are critical, but just as important will be a grower’s ability to manage glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth.”
Culpepper continues to recommend layby-directed herbicide applications as the one effective tool still available to producers who are dealing with Palmer resistance.
Crop Insurance Change
A change in crop insurance would favor cotton over dryland corn production also, Ruppenicker points out.
“The form of coverage referred to as ‘GRIP’ has all but been totally eliminated for 2010 in the Southeast,” he says. “Not so much in Georgia but in other states the coverage was such that it paid farmers to grow dryland corn when otherwise it would not have been an option.”
Still, there is an additional attraction for cotton in the Southeast.
“The ability to withstand drought better than most other crops is the main reason cotton has been the staple in the Southeast for most of the past 200 years,” says Ruppenicker.
Contact Amanda Huber at (352) 486-7006 or firstname.lastname@example.org.