There was a time a few years ago when I could drive south on US 61 from Memphis, and all I could see were cotton fields on either side of the highway. When you thought of the Mississippi Delta, this is the picture that always came to mind. The crop and region were intertwined in history, and it didn’t seem possible for the landscape to ever change. Well, we know that corn and soybean acres made a serious inroad into the Mid-South just a few years ago, and naturally that trend distressed anyone connected to the cotton industry.
But, upon further analysis, we have learned some important economic lessons after watching this new crop trend. We can’t blame Mid-South producers for having the flexibility to take advantage of high corn and soybean prices. That is what makes this region different from other parts of the Cotton Belt. Because of water availability and other agronomic factors, Mid-South farmers can have a different crop mix every year.
However, as many observers predicted, economic trends go in cycles. And we just might be seeing the start of something positive for cotton. It is encouraging that last year’s excellent cotton crop in the Mid-South is leading to more acres in 2014. For example, we know that we will probably never see a million acres of cotton in Mississippi again in our lifetime. But the prospect of more than 400,000 acres this year is reason for optimism.
In our cover story on pages 8 and 10, you can read how long-time Delta producer Bowen Flowers has decided to increase his cotton acreage in dramatic fashion. He never gave up on this crop, but he had planted more corn and soybeans in 2013 to take advantage of higher prices. When corn prices started slipping and cotton prices remained stable in the 80-cent range, he had a good reason to make the switch. It also helped that he averaged three-bale yields last year – some of the best cotton he’s ever produced in three decades.
The Mid-South is certainly different from other regions because of this enviable planting flexibility. However, even when farmers chase these high prices of other commodities, it’s hard to believe that they would completely abandon cotton. But that’s what some of them did a few years ago.
Isn’t it ironic that we’ve heard that many of these same producers will plant cotton this year – and they’ll have to ask various farmer friends to harvest their crops because they’ve sold their equipment.
You’ve heard me say it before, and I’ll say it again. Don’t give up on cotton. When you least expect it, that’s when it always makes a comeback.
If you have comments, send them to: Editor, Cotton Farming Magazine, 1010 June Road, Suite 102, Memphis, Tenn., 38119. Or send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.