Cotton States Struggle In Keeping Acres From Corn And Beans

Infrastructure, cotton family tradition and prices all play a part in decisions.

Published on: Jan 7, 2009

The men and women at the ongoing 2009 Beltwide Cotton Conferences in San Antonio like—or love—the cotton industry. That's why they are in the "Alamo City" in droves. But they can't live on love. Some have been cotton generations.

Ray Makamson, cotton producer, Itta Bena, Mississippi, notes his grandfather came to Mississippi as a trapper to feed the family, then a sharecropper. He's proud the cotton operation grew from that. Ray also has a gin and flying service.
Some of Makamson's neighbors are going to corn and soybeans in 2009. Even Makamson likely will cut back "some" on cotton acreage this year. Folks ask him just what it would take to make cotton attractive once more.

"Our costs for cotton are 30 percent too high," he responds. "Our price for cotton is 30% too low."

In Texas, some 4.9 million acres of cotton were planted in 2008. Randy Bowman, Texas AgriLife Extension agronomist, Lubbock, says it could still be near 5 million acres again in 2009. There just aren't a lot of options. Gins need cotton.
Nevertheless, some dryland cotton growers find issues with the high price of today's cottonseed varieties. They—and their bankers too—consider the risks. That makes more sorghum attractive to some growers trying to cut costs.

"Failed sorghum acreage is not as costly as failed cotton acres," Bowman notes.

J.C. Banks, Oklahoma State University cotton specialist, Altus, expects cotton acreage to remain stable there as Oklahoma is coming off a good crop. He says from 25 to 35% of the cotton acreage in Oklahoma will be irrigated.

Chris May of Tennessee says growers likely would stay with cotton if December futures reach at least 70 cents per pound. But now, cotton is no where near that.

Bob Griffin, Griffin Ag Consulting, Jonesboro, Arkansas, says he definitely expects a lot more corn and soybeans—and less cotton—in Arkansas this year.

Charles H. Burmester, Auburn University, Tennessee Valley Research and Extension Center, Belle Mina, Alabama, says cotton still works well with peanuts in rotation because the root rot complex that affects peanuts is not the same as the root rot that impacts cotton. He says different soil types have a big say there.

Ted Sheely, a cotton producer at Lemoore, California, says water has become extremely expensive there. So California growers who do grow cotton must be extremely meticulous with the water.