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Rotation options promising for Plains cotton farmers

Mike Hughes sees a few new opportunities shaping up for cotton farmers in 2008 as growers take advantage of potentially profitable alternative crops to catch up on much-needed rotation.

But he doesn't anticipate much acreage change in the Texas High Plains.

Hughes, president of Plains Cotton Growers Inc., farms near Lamesa and says higher prices for grain sorghum and wheat make rotation a more viable option for cotton farmers. He says peanuts also provide a profitable rotation option for growers with proper soils and adequate irrigation.

“A lot of growers in North Texas switched to corn in 2007,” Hughes said in an interview at the recent Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Nashville. “Some might turn to grain sorghum in 2008,” he says. “Price is good. Wheat also looks good and we need to winter cover to prevent blowing sand damage in the spring.”

Hughes says research shows cotton yields improve significantly following a rotation crop. “A two-year rotation is good. Three is even better. We're going to have to look at that.”

He says every cotton farmer likely has a field or two that needs rotation.

Hughes says even with some switch to wheat, grain sorghum or, in a few cases, peanuts, Southern Plains cotton acreage should remain steady. “With fertilizer prices up as high as they are we may see a shift away from corn and back to cotton,” he says.

“We have the infrastructure for cotton in place, so we'll raise cotton. We have been hurt some already in the Southern Plains with loss of some gins. We have about half as many as we did 15 years ago. We will not finish ginning the 2007 crop until March or April. We're also making more bales than we used to.”

He says some growers have found niche markets for organic cotton. “Weed control will be hard, though.”

Hughes says the 2007 crop was one of the best in years, in both yield and quality. “The fall was magnificent.”

He also credits the Boll Weevil Eradication Program with increased yields, better quality and a more efficient crop. “We were spraying eight times.” He says other tools, including better varieties, also contribute to higher yields and improved quality.

“I see a lot of growers at the Beltwide who are excited about cotton. A lot of young farmers are excited and they are here learning about technology and new tools they can use. We'll see better managers.”

Hughes says he will change little on his farm this year. “I'll address some rotation needs. I planted wheat on some fields that needed rotation and I'll come back with cotton next year or go back to wheat. And a cover crop has become almost a necessity.”

He may try a few peanuts. “Price for peanuts has been good, but I'll decide on that as late as possible. I want to see what our underground moisture situation will be at planting, in April.

“I will grow cotton, but it's nice to have the option of planting a grain crop and not losing money on it. Cotton will benefit from growing grain.”

Hughes expects to see a lot more farmers switch to 16-row equipment. “We can convert and use less labor,” he says.

He's also looking at new picker-module builders. “They can eliminate a tractor, a boll buggy and more labor,” he says. “I want to see some numbers from Extension.”

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