Saturday, May 18, 2024

Don’t Bet Against Cotton



The 2012 crop was probably one of the easiest and least stressful crops I have made in my 30-plus years of farming. The growing season was great, and the weather at harvest for all crops was ideal. With new pickers, we eliminated three boll buggies, four module builders and all the seasonal labor we normally hire to help with picking up cotton, tarping and working around the module builders.
My seasonal field labor was pretty mad at me about the situation, but as a Russian author once wrote, “Even oysters have enemies.” This also freed up other labor, and we were able to cut stalks, disk and subsoil in a timelier manner.

The gin had a good year. For the last couple of years, cottonseed prices have been attractive. As grain prices escalated, so did cottonseed. When I first started farming, cottonseed was less than $100 per ton, and the older farmers said we would not be able to make it on that. Now, we are receiving about $240 per ton, and ginning is profitable. As gins have shut down in the county, we’ve had to help neighbors still producing cotton.

When grain prices started going through the roof a few years ago and some farmers started moving away from cotton, I began to worry about our infrastructure. Could we lose so many gins that a farmer couldn’t get back into cotton, if he so desired? Is cotton really that cheap or is it just other crop prices are high?

Mr. Ray Young from Louisiana told me a couple of years ago he had seen cotton “dead” five times in his lifetime. It always comes back. Just as we have seen the construction of grain bins in my area, you will see more gins being built when cotton prices increase and/or grain prices decrease.

Cotton production helps the local economy more than any other crop. Most corn producers will plant, fertilize and put out a herbicide. The same applies to a soybean producer but without fertilizer. It is then cut and taken to the elevator. That’s it!

Cotton production uses many inputs throughout the year. It is more labor intensive than other crops. Local entomologists and crop consultants must monitor it and scout for insects and weeds; the recommended products used to treat them come from our local dealers. Most years there will be several trips made across the field by a local aerial applicator. (They don’t like being called crop dusters anymore). Local people work at the gins and the warehouses. A cotton dollar turns over more times in the local economy than a grain dollar. It’s just the nature of staying in business. Nothing is wrong with your horse. You have just hopped on one a little faster at the moment.

As a dryland producer, I can’t bet that I can make a corn or a bean crop most years without irrigation. But I can expect to make a cotton crop. Of course, even with good yields, I need fair prices.

My father once told me a man is lucky if he can make 40 crops in his lifetime. He has been fortunate enough to make about 55 in his life. There is no reason he won’t make many more. I think a man is lucky if he can make 30 crops and then find oil or gas on
his property.

My great grandfathers came to the South Delta in the late 1800s after hearing stories of alluvial soils that could produce good cotton yields. They worked the land to provide a better life for their children and grandchildren. They were the foundation that has provided my family and me the lifestyle we live. Cotton has stuck with us for going on five generations. I personally find it hard to turn my back on a friend like that.

Cotton acres will rebound in the South Delta. It will take a while, and it may never be like it once was. The only thing permanent is change. Cotton, like all other crops, is cyclical in nature. It will provide for future generations of farmers.

Mike Lamensdorf, Rolling Fork, Miss.

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