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April 2014 Issue
APRIL 2014 COVER STORY
Bowen Flowers ...
Encouraged By Mississippi’s Cotton Acreage Outlook In 2014
If you’re a cotton producer in Mississippi or other parts of the Mid-South, you’re feeling cautiously optimistic about the 2014 season. In fact, you might say that there is a sense of expectation about this year’s cotton crop. Some experts say that cotton could increase by 30 percent in Mississippi and wind up close to 400,000 acres.
That is a significant increase, and most observers credit the upward trend to excellent yields in 2013 along with lower corn prices. It’s a far cry from the one million acres of cotton planted in Mississippi just a few years ago. But it is still encouraging to long-time Delta cotton producer Bowen Flowers, a seventh-generation farmer who will plant cotton on nearly 50 percent of his land this year. Corn and soybean acreage will each comprise roughly 20 percent, while wheat and peanuts may fill out the crop mix.
“We cut back on our cotton acres last year because the grain prices were so high,” he says. “But we wound up having one of the best cotton crops since I’ve been farming in the Delta.”
That is a significant statement for Flowers to make when you consider that he graduated from Mississippi State University in 1982 and made his first crop in 1983. After nearly three decades, he is saying that 2013 was his best cotton crop. It isn’t a surprise that he’ll try to duplicate what he accomplished last year and perhaps even improve on that overall three-bale average.
“We really didn’t know how good our crop was until we started picking it,” he says. “I think this kind of experience with cotton really had an effect on a lot of farmers in our state. They want to continue the momentum into this year.”
A lot of factors came together to create this positive attitude about cotton in Mississippi and the rest of the Mid-South. First, there were some high-performing varieties that delivered excellent yields.
Flowers had good results from four varieties:
Another factor was the progress he has made in controlling resistant pigweed. He continues to implement an effective residual herbicide program with a hooded sprayer, and he is pleased with the results.
Expensive Cotton Crop
There is no question that growing cotton is an expensive proposition. Input costs, land rents and the ongoing war against pigweed and plant bugs “make it harder and harder to make it work out on paper,” according to Flowers. Those challenges, however, don’t deter him. He is in a never-ending quest to improve his operation.
For example, last year he worked with Extension irrigation specialist Jason Krutz at Mississippi State University on how to make his farm’s irrigation system more efficient. The Flowers’ farm uses traditional center pivot and polypipe furrow irrigation systems. In the polypipe, a special computer-based program called the “Pipe Hole and Universal Crown Evaluation Tool” (PHAUCET) is now installed. By varying the amount of water released in the polypipe, fields are irrigated more consistently and use less water. Yields last year were identical or better compared with the traditional polypipe setup. Soil moisture probes are installed in the field to monitor when water is needed.
Flowers also has installed meters on his farm in an effort to monitor water usage and protect aquifer levels in the Delta. He is monitoring water runoff and re-using water when possible. Fortunately, the aquifer in the Delta can be re-charged – unlike what is occurring in the Texas High Plains where the Ogallala Aquifer continues to drop.
“I really think our water conservation efforts will be a win-win for all parties,” says Flowers. “It will assist us in being more efficient in our farming operation, and it will help the entire region protect the Delta’s water source.”
Water efficiency is one of the initiatives that gives Flowers optimism about his farm’s ability to produce excellent cotton. He’s also a proponent of a cotton-corn rotation program that improves yields, maintains organic matter in the soil and reduces nematode populations.
Importance Of Delegating Responsibility
The Flowers farm has a rich history, and Bowen gives a lot of credit to his workers and farm managers for the operation’s success. Their ability to make things run smoothly allows him to be involved in numerous industry activities. For example, he is the outgoing president of Delta Council and current chairman of the National Cotton Council’s American Cotton Producers.
How do other local ag officials view the Flowers’ farm operation? Perhaps Coahoma County agent Don Respess sums it up best. He is a Delta native and has been in the business for 24 years.
“Bowen is the kind of farmer who is innovative and totally dedicated,” he says. “He is always trying to make his farm more efficient, but he also wants to do what is best for the Mississippi Delta. He definitely knows how to delegate responsibility, and he has some wonderful folks working for him. I can’t say enough about how he manages his farm.”
Contact Tommy Horton at email@example.com or phone: (901) 767-4020
Several factors combined to create some momentum for Mississippi cotton producers going into the 2014 crop season. First, there were the excellent yields in 2013, which created a statewide average of 1,229 pounds per acre. Then there is the stable cotton price that has hovered near 80 cents for several months. Finally, there is the lower price for corn that dipped into the four- dollar range.
“I think we’re looking at a lot more optimism,” says Mississippi Extension cotton specialist Darrin Dodds. “Everything is driven by economics, and the numbers look good for cotton. Don’t forget that we had some amazing yields across the state last year. Many farmers had four-bale yields, and that created more interest for cotton in 2014.”
Dodds says he won’t be surprised if cotton acreage in the state tops 400,000 this year. No two seasons are alike, but he can see why producers would be inclined to move acres into cotton.
“It’s all about how they can make money,” he says.