No Bolls in ’09|Cotton production plummets as grain takes place as cash crop

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mississippi’s cotton production for 2008 has fulfilled the federal government’s estimate of a down year wracked by hurricanes and lingering low prices for the fiber and higher prices for other crops, especially corn and soybeans.

To view a detailed graphic of cotton production in Mississippi by decade, click here.

Production dropped to 680,000 bales — down nearly half from last year’s October harvest, according to figures made available Tuesday from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Cotton was planted in just 365,000 acres statewide, a second year-over-year decrease since 1.2 million acres was planted in 2006.

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USDA estimated nationwide production at 13.5 million bales for the year, which would be about 6 million less than 2007. The agency’s forecast was down slightly from October before the harvest ended.

County-by-county statistics will be available later this month. Early estimates by industry watchers in Warren County peg this year’s total at half of last year’s 8,000 bales, which was the lowest output since 1983 when an oversupply forced a cutback in planting.

Statistics on corn production in the state are also expected later, but market signs point to an even bigger incentive for cotton growers to switch at least temporarily.

Cotton futures hovered at 42 cents per pound this week, while corn stood at $3.8340 per bushel, down slightly from a peak of $4.185 in October. Soybeans, a key ingredient in processed foods, traded at $9.4075. Statewide production of the legume was up to 74 million bushels, most since the mid-1980s. Acreage planted grew to 2 million, most in a decade. 

Corn’s explosion in profitability for farmers due to ethanol production continues to be a driving force in cotton’s sour fortunes locally and nationally.

“Grain prices have skyrocketed. There’s so much potential for profitability,” said Warren County Extension Agent John Coccaro.

The basic economics, he said, might force three remaining cotton-growing operations to grow more profitable crops.

“It’s incredible,”  Coccaro said, forecasting another bleak picture in 2009 for the state’s once-dominant crop.

“There’s an extremely strong possibility that there won’t be any cotton in Warren County,” Cocarro said.

For longtime local growers like Dinna Simmons, the costs of production heavily outweighed the benefits of planting this year — including fertilizer, which set the Eagle Lake-based Simmons Planting Company back about $800,000.

“Everybody’s so scared to plant cotton,” Simmons said. “It’s so expensive. Farmers are suffering.”

Hurricane Gustav and Hurricane Ike tripled rainfall totals for August in Vicksburg — a torrent that drenched fields and damaged plants beyond harvest, said Todd Andrews, who farms about 305 acres off Mississippi 27.

“With the hurricanes that hit, the bolls started to crack open and all,” Andrews said, adding he’s likely to switch to corn and wheat next year. “As of right now, I will not have any cotton next year.”

USDA estimates only three states — Alabama, South Carolina and Virginia — are expected to produce more cotton this year than last based on end-of-season conditions.

In Louisiana and Texas, which bore the brunt of both peak-season hurricanes, output is expected to be down tremendously — 60 and 38 percent, respectively.

At just 280,000 bales, Louisiana’s total would be the lowest since 1946.