round cotton bales

Good weather allowing rapid cotton planting

Mississippi cotton planting off to quick start, well ahead of five-year average. USDA projects state to plant 450,000 cotton acres.  

Cotton producers made rapid planting progress in mid-May on increased acreage, hoping the recent trend of high yields will continue in a year of low prices for all crops.

Darrin Dodds, cotton specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said dry weather during the second week of May allowed farmers to kick planting into high gear.

“By and large, some folks are almost finished planting cotton, but others are just getting started because they’ve been planting other crops such as peanuts and then turning their attention to cotton,” Dodds said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture projected Mississippi growers would plant about 450,000 acres of cotton this year. As of May 15, growers had planted 64 percent of the crop, almost double what they had planted one week previously. This planting rate is slightly ahead of last year and well ahead of the five-year average, which is 55 percent planted.

“Being ahead of that curve is probably a good thing because acres are going to be up this year,” Dodds said.

Cotton, which once covered as many as 1.2 million acres a year in the state, hit a recent low of 290,000 acres in 2013. Last year, growers planted cotton on 320,000 acres in Mississippi.

“We’ve discovered we can grow grains pretty effectively, and cost of production as well as pest management difficulties in cotton make it a challenging crop to grow,” Dodds said. “We’ve made some really good yields, and if we can maintain those yields this year, there’s a profit to be made despite low prices.”

Brian Williams, Extension agricultural economist, said south Delta cotton was selling for just over 62 cents a pound as of May 17, while December futures were trading for a little less.

“Cotton prices were on an upward trend from early March to around May 1, but they have since fallen some,” Williams said. “A year ago at this time, cotton was selling for just over 64 cents a pound.”

Prices for all row crops are down, and producers have to make planting and management decisions based on expected crop production costs, yields and prices.

“At current prices, cotton is budgeted to lose about $35 an acre, but that will vary greatly from producer to producer,” Williams said. “Some of our more efficient producers may be able to actually turn a healthy profit growing cotton if they can market their crop at the right time.”

Knowing the right time to sell is always tough, and Williams said there is a lot going on in cotton markets now.

Dodds said that while recent weather has allowed farmland to dry enough for planting, temperatures have stayed low.

“Much of the state has been battling wet weather, and temperatures remain very cool for mid-May,” he said. “Being cool and damp is not an ideal start. Early-season cotton growth is slow by nature, but it’s been slower than normal because of the cool temperatures.”

Growers replanted some Mississippi cotton acres because of poor emergence, and others battled seedling disease and herbicide damage. Thrips are insect pests starting to move in, encouraged by cool weather.

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