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Cotton harvest ends trying year for crop
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Cotton farmers are trying just to put the season behind them after a year of struggling with the crop once called “king” in Mississippi.
Darrin Dodds, cotton specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said much of the state's crop looked good until early August, when tropical weather brought untimely rains to areas of the state.
“We went from having a crop that everyone talked about as being good to one that they were just ready to be finished with, especially the farther south you travel in the Delta,” Dodds said. “It shaped up as a year that didn't really want to start because of all the rain at planting time. Now it's shaping up as the crop that doesn't want to stop, which is a consequence of late planting and weather conditions during the late summer and fall.”
Dodds said the state's cotton was only 57 percent harvested by Oct. 19, which is well behind the five-year average of 80 percent harvested by that time. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is projecting yields of 907 pounds per acre, which would be down from the 966 pound-per-acre average for 2007 and the 922 pound-per-acre average for the last five years.
“I expect yields to be about 875 pounds per acre this year,” Dodds said. “A bale weighs 480 pounds, and I've seen yields around the state varying from one to three bales per acre.”
Dodds said the cotton harvest was just beginning in the northern part of the state by mid-October. He is expecting better yields there, as losses from boll rot and hardlock do not appear to be as severe as those suffered by growers in the south Delta.
Cotton lost 300,000 acres this year and dropped to just 365,000 acres in Mississippi. The state's highest cotton acreage was 4.14 million acres in 1930. Dodds said high production costs plus low sale prices for cotton compared to other crops will probably result in producers taking even more acres out of cotton production next year.
John Michael Riley, Extension agricultural economist, said this drop in cotton acreage has far-reaching impacts.
“Communities where the infrastructure is built around the industry are definitely going to be hurting,” Riley said. “There are a lot of ginning towns in Mississippi where cotton supports the town. As we lose cotton acreage, they'll have less work for the gins, and it will definitely have a negative economic impact on the town.”
Riley said the primary reason for this change is that corn and soybeans have become increasingly profitable and have taken many of cotton's acres.
“Producers who placed some sort of hedge or forward contracted their crop will be in better financial shape than those who waited to market their crop at harvest,” Riley said.
December futures prices for cotton are 50 cents a pound, and March futures are 53 cents, but Riley said prices are moving slightly upward. At the end of September, these prices were between 60 and 65 cents a pound.
Riley said producers spent an average of $650 per acre to grow cotton in Mississippi this year. As cotton market prices plummeted, input costs rose.
“The costs of fertilizer, fuel and upkeep of machinery have all been escalating, and that's really affected the profit margins for producers,” Riley said. “The only positive aspect is with the ongoing economic fiasco, we have seen fuel prices drop.”