During the recent Beltwide Cotton Conferences several industry experts gave recaps of the 2012 cotton crop, and the consensus was that last year’s crop was record-breaking in some parts of the Cotton Belt and heartbreaking in other areas.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of cotton production, moving toward the 2013 planting season, is the sense of frustration among growers.
Other than weather factors, they seem to have more-than-adequate tools to manage weed resistance problems, diseases and other production challenges, yet marketing uncertainties beyond their control continue to force growers to reduce acreage.
Add to the bright side of cotton production, entry into the marketplace by all the major cottonseed companies exciting new varieties that are almost certain to continue to push cotton yields upward.
In 2012, the trend toward higher yields continued. In the Delta and Southeast, 2-bale cotton was the state average across both regions. In California and Arizona 3-bale per acre cotton was the norm.
In each region there were growers who topped five bales per acre. The production news for cotton remains outstanding, the economic side — not so much.
In the Delta, production was uniformly high, despite some significant weather-related challenges, primarily the result of Hurricane Isaac.
Despite averaging about 1,000 pounds of lint per acre region-wide, a recent survey of cotton industry experts indicates the Delta may have the biggest decline in cotton acreage in 2013.
Arkansas growers harvested the most acres of cotton and had the highest average state yield among the five cotton-growing states in the region in 2012.
Growers in the state harvested 580,000 acres of cotton, with a statewide average of 1,084 pounds of lint per acre.
In Mississippi, recent High Cotton Award winner Johnny Little, who farms near Holcomb, Miss., says several weather-related problems, including wind and rain from Hurricane Isaac appeared to have hurt his crop, but final production was much better than expected.
He says his commitment to long-term no-till probably kept his crop from suffering much damage from the unexpected weather pattern.
Cotton farmers in Mississippi harvested 460,000 acres of cotton and had a statewide average of almost 1,000 pounds of lint per acre.
Louisiana growers got the brunt of Hurricane Isaac and other tropical systems, but cotton yields didn’t suffer much from the inclement weather.
Producers in the state harvested 220,000 acres of cotton and averaged more than 1,000 pounds of lint per acre.
Tennessee and Missouri combined to harvest about 700,000 acres of cotton last year. Missouri had a state average just over 1,000 pounds per acre and Tennessee growers came in just below 1,000 pounds per acre.
In Georgia, where growers harvested 1.285 million acres of cotton, or about half the Southeast total, the state average topped 1,000 pounds of lint per acre.
Georgia consultant Jack Royal says this was one of the best, if not the best cotton crop he’s seen in and around Leary, Ga., during his career.
North Carolina continues to be the second-largest cotton producing state in the Southeast, but that ranking is dwindling rapidly. Last year cotton acreage in the state was down about 120,000 acres and most growers contend acres will decline significantly again this year.
Last year growers in North Carolina averaged just under 1,000 pounds per acre, and when all is said and done with ginning, they might reach the 1,000-pound mark. Despite cuts in acreage, North Carolina growers still harvested about 580,000 acres of cotton.
Florida and Alabama combined to produce about a half million acres of cotton and together averaged about 2 bales per acre — a little more in Florida and a little less in Alabama.
Target spot, which first occurred in Alabama in 2011, showed up in both states last year and likely contributed to some yield loss in 2012.
Among the Southeast states, Virginia produced the lowest acreage of cotton, but the highest yield. Veteran grower Mike Griffin in Suffolk, Va., says the 2012 crop surprised him in terms of how good it turned out to be. “I knew we had a good crop of cotton, but I was shocked when we started seeing the final yields,” he says.
Last year Virginia growers harvested 85,000 acres of cotton, down from 2011 totals and down significantly from 100,000 or more expected prior to planting last year’s crop.
Despite planting fewer acres, Virginia growers averaged 1,045 pounds per acre last year.
South Carolina harvested about 300,000 acres of cotton and probably had the widest variation in yields from one part of the state to another among the Southeastern states.
A lot of that variability, says Luray, S.C., grower Bud Bowers is likely due to extreme dry weather at planting time in some parts of the state. “We had the hardest time we’ve ever had getting our cotton planted. We’ve got irrigation on most of our cotton land, but we still didn’t have enough moisture to get a uniform crop planted when we wanted to plant it,” Bowers says.
Despite the delays at planting time, he says the 2012 crop was one of the best he’s produced.
The good news for cotton growers in the Southwest was that cotton in 2012 was less drought-stressed than in 2011. The bad news is the drought was still plenty bad, and it came with some other weather related calamities, primarily an Oct. 8, freeze that significantly hurt yields in west Texas.
In Oklahoma and Texas, growers were forced to abandon more than a million acres of cotton.
In Oklahoma, for example, cotton growers only harvested about half the acres they planted in the spring. As expected, yields were low on the remaining 175,000 acres, producing only 411 pounds per acre.
In Texas, by far the largest cotton-producing state in the country, the news was only marginally better. There, growers harvested 4.9 million acres, but still managed to barely make a bale an acre, coming in with a statewide average of only 539 pounds per acre.
In the usually highly productive Rolling Hills and High Plains areas of Texas, 60 to 70 percent of planted acres was not harvested. These areas got the double punch of drought and the Oct. 8 freeze, which basically shut down production in those areas of the state.
In New Mexico virtually all the cotton is irrigated and the state missed some of the heat and drought problems and freeze problems of their neighbors to the east.
Growers in New Mexico produced yields in the 2 bales-per-acre range, but the small acreage there did little to bolster the overall production of what is the country’s largest cotton producing region.
Cotton production in desert areas out west is dramatically different from other parts of the Cotton Belt. Over the past few years acreage has dwindled significantly, leaving the best cotton farmers to grow cotton on some of the best land in the region. The results are as expected, with 3 bales-per-acre cotton the norm for the two states and 4- and 5-bale production not at all uncommon.
Growers in Arizona produced the highest statewide yields in the country in 2012, finishing up with 1,526 pounds of lint per acre on slightly more than 200,000 acres.
In California, cotton farmers harvested 365,000 acres of cotton with a statewide average of 1,418 pounds per acre.
Despite outstanding production in three of the country’s four cotton-producing regions, experts contend acreage will decline again in 2013. If estimates of 9.4 million to 9.8 million acres for 2013 are accurate, cotton production will fall about a million acres this year, or about 10 percent from 2012 acreage.