The 2009 crop season was one to forget for cotton producers, but it’s unlikely that many will — at least not any time soon. With that, here’s one more look at the mostly ugly 2009 growing season, from Tennessee Extension cotton specialist Chris Main, speaking at the 2010 Beltwide Cotton Conferences in New Orleans.
Cotton acreage increased for Virginia, Georgia and Florida in 2009, acres while in the Carolinas and Alabama declined. Southeast yields were very similar to Mid-South yields in that yields increased from south to north, according to Main. “Most of this is due to the weather we saw across the southern portion of the country. In Georgia, they had late planting, a lot of wet weather at harvest and a lot of immature bolls in the top of the plant that they were not able to harvest.”
Throughout the Southeast, Palmer pigweed resistance to herbicides “is becoming more and more of an issue every year and is beginning to move into other parts of the Cotton Belt.
On the sandy Coastal Plains soils, “Georgia is beginning to see more problems with leaf spot diseases due to nutrient deficiencies, particularly potassium,” Main said.
Another challenge in the Southeast is identifying new cotton varieties for 2010-11 and beyond. “Over the past two years, over 82 percent of the acres in Georgia have been planted to DP 555 BG/RR. With that variety exiting after this year, there are in the neighborhood of 700,000 to 800,000 acres in Georgia up for grabs. Over the last two years, no other variety has had more than a 3 percent market share in that state.”
Alabama Extension cotton specialist Dale Monks summed up the cotton situation in the state in one sentence, “It rained a lot, then it didn’t, then it rained a lot, and it’s still raining.”
Cotton acreage is expected to rise in Florida, where cotton acres had risen to 85,000 acres in 2009. “That is with the caveat that they can get the 2009 crop out of the field, because a lot of it was still there in early January,” Main said.
Cotton plantings decreased for Arkansas, Mississippi and Missouri and increased slightly in Louisiana and Tennessee in 2009. Like in the Southeast, yields increased as you moved from south to north, Main said.
“The Mid-South suffered through a very wet spring. We planted late, and had a cooler and wetter than average summer for the most part. What made it strange was that we had August weather in June and June weather in August.”
Despite the less than ideal start, almost every state “had extraordinary crop potential on Sept. 1. Then beginning Sept. 12, it started raining, and it didn’t stop until the first week of November. There were intermittent periods when it stopped raining where we tried to harvest corn and soybeans and get defoliant on our cotton. We had very little sunshine during this period, and it dramatically impacted our cotton crop.”
Main noted that even early cotton was penalized by the weather. “It didn’t matter if we planted early or had an early-maturing variety, we lost a substantial amount of cotton to hard lock.
“On our late-planted cotton, many producers didn’t get planted until the first week of June. We had a lot of immature bolls due to wet weather at the end of harvest season.”
Weed resistance also hit the region with a vengeance. “You’d be lucky to find a field from Clarksdale, Miss., north that did not have Palmer pigweed in it.”
Main says in many fields, 350 pounds to 400 pounds of cotton never made it into the picker due to hard lock, boll rot and immature bolls. “Then when the sun did come out, the seed sprouted which hurt our fiber quality.”
Arkansas cotton yields regressed to “levels of the mid-1980s” Main said. “Louisiana losses in cotton amounted to $81 million. They’re growing 23 percent of their acreage high from the mid-1990s.”
Main said another concern is the potential for loss of cotton infrastructure as cotton acres decline. “If cotton does make a comeback, we’re going to have a hard time getting that infrastructure back after a few years.”
Cotton yields in the Southwest “were fairly good, considering some of the challenges they saw in 2009,” Main said. “J.C. Banks (Oklahoma cotton Extension specialist) says the state ‘had a strong summer, but a weak finish. In both irrigated cotton and dryland, there were a lot of immature bolls that never filled out.’
“In the Texas High Plains, conditions were very similar. They had a cool September, with early freezes in many areas. As they continue to gin, they’re finding that micronaire values are declining and bark contamination is trending higher.”
In south Texas, cotton producers faced extremely dry conditions early, then weather turned wet late in the year, Main said. “They’ve continued to have problems with volunteer crops coming up where they were growing cotton in rotations.
“In the south-central area, the Coastal Bend and the Upper Coast took a dramatic hit on yield and bale production in 2009.”
In the West, Arizona cotton acres increased slightly in 2009, while Upland and Pima acreage declined. “What amazes me is the yield they were able to get, a 1,700 pound estimated average for California and 1,450 pounds for Arizona,” Main said. “They make a lot of cotton and a lot of quality cotton.
“Arizona had excellent conditions for getting crops in the ground, a cool beginning to summer, but then, heat returned with a vengeance. They ended the year with higher than average yields and quality.”
Main said declines in dairy and forage crops could mean a lot of that acreage shifting back to cotton in Arizona.
California cotton producers “continue to be plagued by water issues. The cities want the water, and they’re trying as hard as they can to take it away from farmers. But California is expecting a little bit of an increase in cotton acres in 2010.”
Main said that a high point in 2009 has been the steady increase cotton prices. “World demand is increasing, and mills are starting to buy more cotton. World production was lower in 2009 because there were weather problems in the rest of the world.
“I think we can be fairly optimistic that in 2010, we’re going to see some increased acres. I don’t think we’ll see a huge increase to where we were 4 or 5 years ago. But there is reason for optimism.”