If you read the cover story for April Cotton Farming or my Editor’s Note, you know that I spent some time recently in the Mississippi Delta visiting with long-time producer Bowen Flowers. Not only was it a chance to find out what his plans are for the 2014 season, but it was an opportunity to observe the North Delta as planting season approaches. We already know that Mississippi cotton acreage may top 400,000 acres this year, which is a nice boost from the last two years.
There appears to be an increased interest in cotton, and that leads me to believe that producers are taking a second look at this crop. As we have mentioned several times, producers moved a lot of acreage to corn in the last three years to take advantage of higher grain prices. How could anyone blame Mid-South farmers for doing this? It’s what is known as flexibility, and that has become the trademark of farmers in this region. However, one of our previous worries was how would this kind of acreage shift affect cotton’s infrastructure? How many gins would shut down or be consolidated with other gins? How difficult would it be for a gin to start up again after being closed for a season or two? What would be the long-term impact on cotton acreage? These were all viable questions, and maybe nobody was thinking about this a few years ago.
It appears that some farmers sold their harvest equipment with the thought that they were finished with cotton and would never return to it. However, economic trends can be hard to predict, and that’s what happened with cotton. After some surprisingly excellent cotton yields in the Mid-South in 2013, the mood changed. Corn prices dropped, and that has set the stage for more cotton acres throughout the region and especially in Mississippi. Flowers, who comes from a seventh-generation cotton farming family that dates back a century, was not going to abandon cotton. Even as he was increasing his corn and soybean acreage in 2013, he still had more than 4,000 cotton acres. He also didn’t sell any of his cotton equipment – most notably his John Deere on-board module harvesters. That was probably the smartest decision he could have made. Because, as most economists say, there are always cycles in ag pricing. Cotton prices have stabilized, and corn prices dipped.
As I was driving down US 61 highway, I thought about other realities of cotton production in Mississippi. I know for a fact that other Delta farmers such as Mike Sturdivant Jr. of Glendora and Justin Cariker of Tunica remain committed to cotton. And there are others. In fact, this resurgence isn’t limited to Mississippi. One of the most encouraging phone calls I received last fall was from Louisiana cotton consultant Tim White who was telling me about the spectacular cotton yields he had observed on many of his customers’ fields. The performance of cotton varieties in Louisiana was so good that White predicted an increase of cotton acreage in his state well above the 100,000 acre mark for 2014. In fact, the National Cotton Council’s Planting Intentions Report projects Louisiana planted acreage at 157,000 acres for this year.
Except for Arkansas, every Mid-South is projecting increased cotton acreage. That is good news for many reasons. It means potentially higher cotton yields, and that translates into more lint to be processed by the region’s many gins.
Will we ever see a return to the old days when one million acres of cotton were routinely planted in Mississippi every year? Probably not. But it is most encouraging when cotton acreage can remain stable and improve to these levels. For that reason, let’s hope that this trend continues in 2014 with excellent yields in the fall.
Everybody in the industry benefits in the long run.