As 2018 draws to a close and farmers plan for 2019, the adage “no two crop years are the same” certainly applies. For the most part, farmers are glad this crop year is over, with hopes, prayers and optimism the year to come will be much better.
Hurricanes Michael and Florence brought heartbreak to growers across much of the Southeast. Particularly hard hit were cotton farmers who had excellent crops in the works and the promise of good prices and strong demand for the fiber they grow. For many, hurricanes changed all of that.
Clay Pirkle, who farms in Turner and Irwin counties in south central Georgia, put it well when he described Hurricane Michael as a meteor hitting the community, bringing utter devastation. Prior to Michael, he was expecting a record cotton crop. “We had a great crop. I was looking at three-bale cotton,” Pirkle said. “This was shaping up to be the best crop of cotton folks have ever seen, and then it’s gone in one night.”
What Pirkle and other growers desperately need is cooperative weather throughout the growing season in 2019. Hopefully, next year at this time, Southeast Farm Press will report that Pirkle and other growers did indeed achieve three-bale cotton yields of excellent quality that mills can’t wait to buy.
Certainly, 2019 will bring many challenges. Top among them are the trade tensions brought on by tariffs. The year to come may well be the most uncertain year many growers have ever faced.
Most indicators point to more cotton in 2019 since prices are trending better than most alternatives. Peanut prices are expected to be down because of large stocks and soybeans face many challenges because of the ongoing trade war with China.
As for cotton, Texas A&M Economist John Robinson says a “very big” supply is the main factor driving the outlook. He is encouraging growers to consider ways to remove downside price risk. Prices are still good, but he advises farmers to consider forward contracting a portion of their crop.
“I think we’re going to plant just as much if not more cotton in 2019. And that’s because grain prices are lower, relative to cotton prices — it favors cotton over wheat and feed grains. Soybean prices have collapsed and that may increase cotton plantings as a substitute in the Mid-South and in the Southeast,” Robinson said in a webinar.
In many ways, the challenges for the year to come seem daunting. The good news is that farmers will carry on. They will plan and plant, manage and harvest yet again. All of us who enjoy a good meal and appreciate the comfort of cotton clothing owe them a debt of gratitude.