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Mississippi Farmers Brooks Aycock and Chad Mohamed are going...

Back To Cotton

Tommy Horton
Editor
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The mood in Mississippi this spring reflects  more than just cautious optimism about prospects for the 2010 cotton crop. In some places, it borders on downright giddiness. No matter who you talk to across the state – in the Delta or Hill regions – there is a sense of excited anticipation about the possibilities for this year.

Nowhere is that more obvious than in the South Delta near Belzoni in Humphreys County where producers Brooks Aycock and Chad Mohamed prepare to increase their cotton acreage in a dramatic way.

The Perfect Environment

Every farmer needs a little bit of luck with the weather going into any season, and the early indicators look promising for Mississippi and the rest of the Mid-South. After enduring a nightmarish harvest season in 2009, which saw record-breaking rainfall  wipe out cotton in many areas, this region is overdue for a big turnaround.

What makes Aycock and Mohamed’s stories so unusual is how they are adding to their cotton acreage this year. Overall, USDA is projecting that Mississippi will increase its cotton acreage by 11.5 percent to nearly 340,000 acres in 2010.

Many observers believe that number will actually climb if the New York futures contract stays in the 80 to 85-cent range or goes higher.

Aycock is increasing his cotton acreage from 1,450 acres to 1,860 acres this year. His other crops include 250 acres of soybeans and 100 acres of corn. He believes the time was right to make such a commitment to cotton because of attractive prices and excellent soil moisture. He also knows that cotton and corn are nearly perfect in a rotation.

Even though Aycock followed the market and planted corn and soybeans in a big way during the past three years, his loyalty to cotton has never wavered.

From a profit standpoint, there is money to be made in cotton this year. The other motivating factor to be considered is the need to protect existing industry infrastructure throughout Mississippi.

Attractive Cotton Prices

Aycock is also convinced that the current price hike can be sustained for several years – mainly because of increased global demand for cotton.

“Naturally, we’ll have to play it by ear,” says Aycock. “But I believe some of our global competitors are moving more acreage into food production. Even though some folks think of the United States as a residual supplier of cotton, these other countries are still going to need our cotton to make every-thing work.”

Even though Aycock and his nephew have grown cotton for many years, there is always something new to learn – especially when acreage is increasing so quickly.

After two consecutive corn crops, Aycock knew that it was time to rotate cotton into his corn acreage. However, even though the corn-cotton rotation is ideal, Aycock has a word of warning to his fellow producers. Check the soil and make sure the pH is at the proper level.

“With so much nitrogen going out of the soil in a corn crop, you really need to check that pH,” he says. “Corn and soybeans also take a lot of potash and phosphate out of the soil. These are things you need to be aware of.”

Do Your Homework When Studying Varieties

Aycock also is concerned that producers who have been away from cotton for two to three years won’t study enough data and understand how much cotton production has changed during this time period.

In particular, he recommends that producers look at university Web sites and variety trials to learn what will work on their individual farms. Aycock is a stickler for good information and routinely monitors trial data from Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas in an effort to match the right varieties with his farm’s soil profile.

“You really shouldn’t rely on a seed company’s data as your only source of information,” he says. “You need to look  at the Official Variety Trials on a number of acres and use them to make up your mind. I market with Staplcotn and have booked cotton for 2010 at 77 cents for a portion of my crop. When it comes down to varieties, my 32-year historic yield average is 1,320 pounds.”

Aycock, in particular, is impressed by fiber quality, strength and storm tolerance of the newer varieties now available to producers. He also can tell that grades along with leaf content are improving every year.

Besides the performance of new varieties, Aycock sees tangible financial advantages in cotton production this year.

“I produced 175-bushel corn last year, and I netted about $4.05 per bushel,” he says. “That is equivalent to about 1.4 bales of cotton on a gross income basis. That’s not good enough for me. I see a lot of potential for cotton this year – and that’s why I’m expanding my acres. The supplemental income from direct and counter-cyclical payments will be coming from cotton and not corn.”

After doing extensive studying and research, Aycock will plant PhytoGen 375, PhytoGen 565, FiberMax 1740, Stoneville 5288 and Stoneville 4288 on his acreage this year, and he’s confident in how each will perform.

Long Awaited Return

Aycock is proud of his family farming heritage, and that might explain why he talks so favorably about his nephew Chad Mohamed who has farmed since the mid-1990s. Mohamed lives in Greenwood but farms several crops near Aycock’s acreage in Belzoni.

Mohamed quit growing cotton three years ago, but on the advice of his uncle decided to plant about 500 acres of cotton this year.

“I know I’m a bit partial, but I think Chad is one of the finest young farmers in this region,” says Aycock. “He has a world of potential, and I’m excited that he’s coming back to cotton this year.”

Mohamed had always wanted to be a farmer and toyed with the idea of pursuing another career after earning a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Mississippi. But farming eventually won out.

He knows the importance of having a diverse crop mix on all of his acreage, and this year he’ll have 500 acres of cotton, 700 acres of corn, 1,300 acres of soybeans and 1,250 acres of rice.

“This just seemed like a great opportunity to get back into cotton,” says Mohamed.

“Naturally, there is some apprehension because I’ve been away from cotton for three years. But my cotton acreage is on some excellent silty loam soil, and I think we have a chance for good yields and quality.”

Mohamed has relied on the advice of his uncle Brooks as well as entomologist consultant Chris Adams who regularly checks  all of his fields.

Another big reason for his optimism is because of the 30-inch skip-row pattern on his cotton fields. He thinks this will improve yields when he plants DP 0912 and Stoneville 5288 and 5458 varieties.

All of Mohamed’s acreage on cotton, rice, corn and soybeans is irrigated. If all goes well during the season, he has a lofty target of 1,150 pound yields for the cotton.

Although Mohamed didn’t plant cotton last year, he still has vivid memories of the torrential rains that hit Mississippi during the fall. That weather event affected nearly every farmer in the upper and lower Delta.

Another major concern is where he will gin his cotton in the fall. Because of gin consolidations, it’s unclear right now what gin in Humphreys County will take his crop.

“I know this much for sure,” he says with a laugh. “When folks find out that you’re growing cotton for the first time in several years, the phone starts ringing a lot.”

Mohamed also takes an active interest in how he markets his cotton. This  year, he has already booked 75 percent of his cotton and is marketing the rest through Staplcotn.

Staying Proactive

Mississippi Extension cotton specialist Darrin Dodds can vouch for how Aycock and Mohamed enthusiastically approach farming. He has advised Mohamed on his 30-inch row spacing and regularly confers with Aycock about soil testing and variety selection.

“These two farmers have the right approach for growing cotton,”  says Dodds. “Brooks and I talk regularly, and he soaks up as much information as possible. He can walk to his truck and pull out a notebook and give you data on every variety he plants. He’s like the guy in college who studied all the time. You know he’ll make the highest grade on the test.”

Contact Tommy Horton at (901) 767-4020 or thorton@onegrower.com.

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