The Low Price Leader

 This Farm Bill will help keep cotton grown in Georgia.”

By Jimmy Webb
By Jimmy Webb

Being a cotton farmer seems to change every time we go through a Farm Bill. This time, we are going through significant farm law changes, and the market isn’t helping us very much either. We seem to always find a way to adapt, and I’m sure that Georgia cotton producers will do so again.

The 2014 Farm Bill brought in a new concept: generic base. This seems to be a game changer for cotton producers here in Georgia. We are the largest producer of peanuts, and a lot of us are known as peanut farmers who grow cotton. We often say that peanuts have helped us buy a lot of cotton equipment.

Generic base can become any program crop and increase profitability for the producer. The generic base can become peanut base in farm legislation and will help make farms more profitable. This means a lot of acres that could have gone to something else will remain in cotton. Right now, peanuts are the crop that will cash flow, and turning cotton base/generic base into peanut base really helps make an easier decision for a producer. This will keep cotton in the mix for Georgia farmers and could help another potential problem – a huge oversupply of peanuts – from becoming a reality.

The questions at every grower meeting are, “How many acres of peanuts are you planting? How much of an increase is that? Are you going to mess up your rotation?” I am on a three-year rotation, meaning every third year that field has peanuts, and I’m not risking a future problem.

Many Georgia producers jumped into the corn market seven years ago but didn’t put in the infrastructure and came back to cotton. We did have a lot of storage and dryers put in, but most producers went back to cotton. You must be irrigated to grow corn in Georgia because it never rains at the right time for corn, and it takes a tremendous amount of water to make a corn crop. Cotton is more forgiving and will wait on rain and still have the potential to make a two-bale crop.

Georgia jumped heavy into the cotton production business in 1995, and we have stayed with it through the good and bad times. I see Georgia producers still hanging with cotton right now. Our farmers have built a tremendous infrastructure since the 1995 crop, and you won’t see it shut down like many other parts of the country. Georgia cotton producers will need to use all tools available to keep cotton profitable. The state receives 52 inches of rainfall per year, and we always have the potential to make a large crop – even for dryland.

With Georgia being the No. 2 producer of cotton in the United States, our export markets are depending on us to deliver a quality product. The quality of cotton that the new varieties are producing is outstanding, and we are leading the way in the foreign markets as mills prefer “Cotton USA.” Our domestic mills’ production has started to grow again, and we are able to supply them with a quality product with a very close proximity to the mills. These new varieties are increasing our yields, which is one of the ways to help keep us profitable. The technology coming to combat weed resistance will also help keep costs down.

On another note, with the farm economy like it is now, it is best to have a good relationship with your banker. Times may be tough ahead, and we need bankers who understand how farm legislation works, who are willing to work with us and get us through the road ahead. I am very optimistic as I always am when we start a new year.

I believe Georgia cotton producers are more committed to cotton than ever before. This Farm Bill will help keep cotton grown in Georgia even though right now cotton is “the low price leader.” We are committed to cotton and to keeping the thriving Georgia cotton industry contributing to Georgia’s economy.

– Jimmy Webb, Leary, Ga.

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