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Georgia Cotton Farmers Hope To Rebound From 2017

• By Julie Jernigan,
University of Georgia •

georgia cotton

Hurricane Irma damaged
cotton plants across
Georgia. Pictured are cotton
plants on the UGA Tifton
Campus knocked over by
Irma’s strong winds — photo
courtesy University of
Georgia

Researchers project that Georgia’s cotton farmers will plant more than 1.45 million acres this year. This is an increase from 1.28 million acres in 2017, says Jared Whitaker, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension cotton agronomist.

Farmers planted cotton in May, and prices have increased due to increased demand and strong U.S. exports. The UGA cotton team believes farmers can expect to price a portion of this year’s crop between 72 and 75 cents per pound.

“There’s a fair amount of optimism from the farmers I’ve talked with this year compared to the past couple of years,” Whitaker says.

“Yields decreased (last year)because of things out of our control like weather and insects — namely whiteflies, but we hope that’s not the case this year. Prices have improved, which should encourage our farmers.”

Whitefly Surprise Attack

Silverleaf whiteflies and Hurricane Irma dampened cotton farmers’ spirits a year ago. An unprecedented outbreak of whiteflies in Georgia in 2017 forced many producers to treat for the pest for the first time.

Whiteflies are tiny, winged insects found on the underside of leaves. They leave behind a sticky substance called honeydew. Whiteflies also feed on the plants, which weakens them.

“Historically, less than 20 percent of our crop deals with silverleaf whiteflies,” Whitaker says. “If we see problems again, it will cost growers, but they will be better prepared to make treatment decisions.”

Big Storm Decreases Yield

Hurricane Irma’s arrival in early September 2017 damaged most Georgia cotton fields, especially those close to harvest.

“We obviously want good soil moisture throughout the growing season, but we don’t want big storms that bring excessive rainfall and tremendous winds that damage yields,” Whitaker says. “Storms can be a blessing at times, but we don’t need another Irma.”

In 2017, Georgia’s average cotton yield was 863 pounds per acre, significantly below the state record of 1,091 pounds per acre set in 2012.

Farm To Make Money

Whitaker advises farmers to make timely production decisions and pay attention to how and where they spend their money.
“I want our growers to set realistic goals with respect to yields because growing cotton can be costly,” he says. “We want to make a lot of cotton, but also be profitable doing it.”

Georgia remains the second-largest cotton-producing state in the United States, second only to Texas. According to the UGA Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, Georgia’s farm gate value for cotton in 2016 was nearly $967.7 million.

Julie Jernigan is an intern at UGA-Tifton.