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Acre Increases Prevent Bigger Cotton Losses
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Cotton took a beating both in prices and yield this year, but with significantly more acreage than last year, the final numbers look a lot like 1998.
Mississippi cotton acres again broke the million mark, rising from 760,000 in 1998 to 1.18 million in 1999. Yield, however, averaged just 708 pounds an acre, a drop from 737 pounds per acre in 1998. The biggest hit came from prices, which were down 10 to 15 cents from last year.
Cotton's 1999 estimated value is $481 million, down 5 percent from $507 million in 1998. The primary reason for the decrease was the drop in the prices for seed and lint.
Dr. Will McCarty, cotton specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said despite some major problems, Mississippi farmers managed to salvage a pretty fair crop.
"We produced less cotton per acre, but we had more acres, so we made more bales in 1999 than in 1998," McCarty said. "The total value is down about $30 million, an indication of how depressed prices have been."
McCarty said cotton seed prices were half what they were a few years ago. Although many farmers don't consider the price of cotton seed a value, it usually covers the cost of ginning and sometimes nets the farmer a refund on gin costs. But not this year.
"Seed prices were so low that some growers had to pay ginners," McCarty said.
Dr. Blake Layton, Extension cotton entomology specialist, said 1999 was a year of unusually low cotton insect pressures.
"Overall insect pressure experienced during 1999 was extremely low and yield losses attributed to insects were lower than in any year since 1991," Layton said.
By August, all Mississippi cotton acres were involved in some phase of boll weevil eradication. Insect control cost state cotton farmers more than $100 million this year, or about $94 an acre. Layton attributed this to the fixed costs of insect management, such as boll weevil eradication fees, Bt cotton technology use fees, insecticide costs and scouting fees.
The season began with a planting season extended to eight weeks because of weather. Rain was adequate and insect pressures and weed conditions were low through early July.
"We had a very good early season," McCarty said. "Even with the planting conditions, going into the first of July, we had the best fruiting crop I've ever seen."
But then the rain stopped across the state about July 7 and daytime and nighttime temperatures began to rise. The intense heat came when the cotton was setting blooms, and contributed to boll shed and low seed counts.
"Not only did the temperatures contribute to yield reduction all across the state, it also gave us problems with fiber quality," McCarty said. "Twenty-six percent of the Mississippi crop classed at the Dumas, Ark., classing office had a fiber length in the discount range."
McCarty said cotton yields this year were the most erratic he's ever seen, but farmers who practiced crop rotation and used furrow irrigation had the most consistent yields. While heat and drought hurt the entire state, Northeast Mississippi was worst hit.
Despite the bad news, McCarty said he expects cotton acreage to increase some in 2000.
"While cotton took a lot of left hooks, it's still one of the best games in town," McCarty said. "With consistently low commodity prices, I anticipate cotton acreage to increase a little in Mississippi."
Dr. O.A. Cleveland, Extension agricultural economist, agreed with the prediction.
"For 2000, I think we'll see cotton acreage extremely strong across the Southeast ñ as good or better than last year," Cleveland said. "I think cotton is the only game in town, but there's little chance of better prices."
Mississippi's average price was 48 cents a pound this year, which is below loan. Most price problems can be traced to cotton imports, mainly from China, which has a very large carryover. Combined with low exports to Asia because of the still-recovering economies, Cleveland said he doesn't expect prices to rise above the cost of production until the 2002 crop.
"I would anticipate a marginally higher price next year, but until we can use up these stockpiles and see significant economic improvement in Asia, we're going to have to be satisfied with cotton process that require government support," Cleveland said.