While Mid-South producers have indicated they will plant a lot less cotton and a lot more corn this season, spring weather and the direction of commodity prices could still have a significant impact on the final numbers, according to an informal survey of farmers at the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show.
Opelika, Ala., producer Tom Ingram’s farming operation, John T. Ingram & Sons, will stick with cotton and peanuts this coming year. “All my land is dryland, and I’m a no till farmer. I’ve been no till since 1984. I haven’t broken land or harrowed cotton land since then. In peanuts, we rip under the row.”
Ingram is an 87 year old World War II veteran and a former High Cotton Award winner from the Southeast growing region, who was one of the first farmers in Alabama to use to use a herbicide on a crop, back in 1948. “I was also the first farmer to trap boll weevils in the state. I started in checking for boll weevils in 1970, and I tried to get all of my neighbors to put up traps. If I could save myself one spraying, I was ahead of the game.”
Ingram is retired, but still involved in his family’s operation, which is been in existence since 1834. Last year, Ingram ran the module builder on the farm.
Retirement has allowed Ingram to take more of a leadership role beyond the farm. “Back in January, I went to the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting in Nashville. I went to Washington D.C. to lay a wreath at the World War II Memorial. Very few country boys get to do anything like that. I’m also of the president of the Lee County Farmers Federation and will be back in Washington D.C. next month representing my county.”
Ingram is also on a farmer advisory committee for U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, (R-Ala.).
Jimmy Hargett, Bells, Tenn., a former High Cotton Award winner from the Mid-South believes cotton will come back, maybe sooner than expected. I’ve been through 51 crops. I’ve seen cotton down maybe two times. It’s always come back.”
Hargett points out than cotton prices at 85 cents to 90 cents, and corn dropping to as low as $5, “could have a tremendous impact on what happens from today until May 15. If it stays wet, and we don’t get a chance to plant corn, it could change the acreage of corn tremendously in the Mid-South. If you plant your corn after May 15, and it’s not irrigated, you’re taken a real high risk. Within the next week I’ll make up my mind. If corn goes down a little bit more, and cotton goes up a little bit more, I’ll have more cotton than I thought.”
Hargett says high corn and soybean prices have been good for farmers and for the land. “Cotton put me where I am today. Corn and soybeans have not traditionally been profitable crops for me. But because of the high prices, last year was the first time in my lifetime that I’ve been able to pick and choose what I wanted to plant. I’ve also had a chance to rotate the ground. I’ve got ground that until commodity prices started changing had been in cotton for 20 years.”
At 83 cents to 85 cents for futures, Hargett says cotton revenue “is really not that bad. People are talking about cotton prices, but today we have a 6 cent to 10 cent additional price because of cottonseed. If you take cotton cottonseed and the deficiency payment, you’re talking about somewhere between 90 cents and a dollar.”
Hargett says locking in a price for cotton is critical because the market is so influenced by outside forces. “Right now, we are controlled by China and oil prices. We have to sell our product, and we have to buy the oil and the fertilizer to get the crop in. If China dumps its cotton reserve on the market, we’re in a heap of trouble.
“They have bought 23 million bales this past year and put it all in the reserve. But if their government decided to get out, we’re looking at 60-cent to 70-cent cotton.”
Thomas Turner, Turner Planting Co., Marvell, Ark., produces cotton, wheat and soybeans on 2,300 acres, but he’s been cutting back on cotton. “This year we’re not having any cotton, and we will have more corn.” Turner is about 75 percent irrigated.
Turner planted 265 acres of corn in 2012, and had good success, averaging about 190 bushels. This year he plans to plant around 1,000 acres of corn, and has locked in a price on most of it. “I wish I could’ve hit the top, but I didn’t.”
The reasons for Turner’s shift from cotton to corn include better economics for corn and rotational benefits. “I may go back to cotton in a year or two,” Turner said. “I haven’t totally counted it out. This has happened before in the cotton industry. I think it will come back. We just have to work the excess out of the market. It may take a couple of years, and I’m not selling my cotton picker.”
Rickey Beaird, who farms corn, soybeans and cotton near Halls, Tenn., has been reducing his cotton acreage over the last few years in response to corn prices.
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“But I’m geared up to plant cotton. I’m just waiting for the price to get back. I’d like to see cotton get up to 90 cents. Right now it’s around 83 cents. Another nickel higher, and I’ll get back in.”
Beaird says corn is easier to grow than cotton, particularly because weed problems are worse in cotton. “You need extra cost in your cotton production just to cover the pigweed that you have to fight. That’s a major cost right there. It didn’t used to be there.”
Like many lifelong cotton producers, Beaird is hoping cotton’s falling acreage is “a temporary downturn. That’s why I’m holding on to my cotton equipment.”
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