2001 cotton crop tested farmers' fiber

Mississippi cotton growers may not have battled drought-stress conditions at the levels of recent years, but the 2001 growing season was not without major challenges.

Timely rains throughout the growing season had cotton ginners searching for warehouse space in mid-August to accommodate the bumper crop. Unseasonable rains in late August and early September began impacting early-planted and early-maturing varieties. Seeds began sprouting in the bolls and regrowth was rampant.

Charlie Forrest, agricultural economist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, estimated the value of the state's cotton lint/seed around $528 million, an increase of 9 percent from 2000. Cotton's farm production value ranked third in the Mississippi, behind poultry's $1.5 billion and forestry's $1.1 billion.

“Cotton had an excellent growing season until late-season rains hurt the quality,” Forrest said. “Large supplies — both domestic and worldwide — caused cotton prices to drop sharply in 2001. The United States is looking to produce a record cotton crop.”

Forrest said cotton posted its lowest prices in almost 30 years when it hit 28.20 cents per pound on Oct. 26. In 2000, prices averaged around 50 cents per pound.

Will McCarty, Extension cotton specialist, said the state produced 2.47 million bales in 2001, the second-largest crop on record. Mississippi produced 2.69 million bales in 1937.

“You would think the cotton industry is thriving, but nothing could be further from the truth,” McCarty said. “Market prices and production costs are contributing to the many challenges growers face in making a crop. Unlike in recent years, the weather cooperated most of the year, with the exception of the harvest season.”

Mississippi acreage has trended up since 1998. Growers increased their acreage to 1.63 million acres, compared to 1.28 million in 2000.

“When acreage goes up, yields usually go down, but that was not the case this year,” McCarty said. “Growers averaged 727 pounds per acre compared to 649 pounds in 2000.”

The cotton specialist said growers in recent years have been in a survival mode. They have placed priority on transgenic varieties that are resistant to certain insects or allow growers to use herbicides without damaging the cotton or both. Other strong considerations have been yield potential and maturity date.

“In the future, growers need to increase emphasis on quality. The best way to get the best price is not to be penalized for poor quality,” McCarty said. “In 2001, some bales were discounted so much that it cost more to haul than it was worth.”

McCarty said 2002 acreage needs to come down to 1.2 million acres or less.

“We'll probably see more no-till and skip-row fields as well as more 12-row equipment. Bt varieties will decrease and Roundup Ready varieties will increase,” McCarty said. “Roundup Ready is not bulletproof, but it is a fantastic management tool.”

Linda Breazeale writes for MSU Ag Communications.

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