Cotton Links


Industry Diversity Helps Solve Problems

By Tommy Horton

So you think it’s simple to grow cotton, no matter where you live? To the uninformed outsider, that’s probably how it seems. After all, cotton looks the same at harvest whether you’re in North Carolina, Texas or California. A sea of white cotton in the fall looks beautiful no matter where you call home. As we all know, it’s not quite that simple, and indeed there are major environmental differences in every cotton production region of the country.

For that reason, it’s easy to understand how each region of the Belt dealt with the skyrocketing prices of corn, soybeans and wheat in such different ways in the past two years. Some regions immediately moved acreage to other crops to take advantage of those prices, while others were a bit more conservative. Meanwhile, there were actually regions that didn’t change a thing. They had no desire to alter their planting strategies.

I mention these scenarios as we reflect on what farmers have learned in the last two years as they made those serious economic decisions. In our cover story on pages 10, 12 and 13, we decided to take a closer look at this time period as farmers try to map their plans for the next few years.

What we discovered were dramatic differences in philosophies and production practices.

In a way, these regional differences shouldn’t have surprised us. While there are common cotton production practices across the Belt, the environment in Texas, for example, is about as different as you can imagine when compared with Georgia, Mississippi or California.

How different? Well, after talking to Georgia Extension agronomist Glen Harris, Mississippi Extension research scientist Wayne Ebelhar and Texas producer Doug Wilde, the differences are profound. For example, Georgia producers are sticking with their cotton-peanut rotation because soybeans simply don’t work as well. In the Mid-South, the exact opposite is true. Farmers in this region have more flexibility, and that’s why you’ll see nearly 700,000 acres of corn planted in Mississippi this year.

Meanwhile, in Texas, it’s all about weather and investment in existing infrastructure. True, there will be some acreage devoted to grain crops, but many farmers are sticking with cotton because it makes more sense economically. As we look ahead to the immediate future, it’s good to know that the differences in how farmers grow cotton can offer such contrasting perspectives.

Everybody responded differently to the high prices of corn, soybeans and wheat because of those unique production environments.

In the end, that will benefit the industry as we look ahead to cotton’s rebound in the next two years. Our different ways of growing cotton will ultimately help us in the long run.

If you have comments, send them to: Editor, Cotton Farming Magazine, 5118 Park Ave., Suite 111, Memphis, Tenn., 38117. Or send e-mail to: thorton@onegrower.com.

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