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Growers eager to make cotton

It’s dry in much of Texas, but not as dry as it could be. Growers learned just how dry the state could get last year when they had to abandon more than 4 million acres of parched cotton. After that devastating 2011 cotton crop across much of the Cotton Belt, Texas and Oklahoma producers are itching to actually make a 2012 crop.

Growers eager to make cotton

It’s dry in much of Texas, but not as dry as it could be. Growers learned just how dry the state could get last year when they had to abandon more than 4 million acres of parched cotton. After that devastating 2011 cotton crop across much of the Cotton Belt, Texas and Oklahoma producers are itching to actually make a 2012 crop.

“We want to go back to actually raising a crop — producing and harvesting cotton,” says cotton grower Erick Richards of Ericksdahl in Jones County, Texas.

Richards says Rolling Plains producers are especially optimistic this year, not only because of more moisture but also because of the availability for the first time of Topguard, or flutriafol, for cotton root rot, a disease that has plagued much of Texas cotton for more than 130 years.

Key Points

Drought hangs on in Texas but it’s not widespread, as in 2011.

Prices are fair, but have lagged from last year.

Flutriafol aids Texas growers; California misses aldicarb.

“It’s encouraging to have flutriafol,” Richards says. “Many growers will want to take advantage of that.”

Richards notes farmers also are optimistic on the market. This spring, USDA upped its estimate of U.S. exports of cotton to more than 11 million bales for the marketing year. USDA also forecast a range of producer price at 89 to 93 cents per pound. That’s favorable with growers. Ag economists say 90-cent cotton will compete with $600-per-ton peanuts — and depending on available irrigation, even $700 nuts.

The Georgia take

The fact that cotton prices have lagged this year compared to 2011 is worth emphasizing, notes one cotton expert, but there is a bright side to the downside.

“We’ve come a long way down since prices were at the $1 level, and there’s no doubt prices have made a significant slide,” says economist Don Shurley of the University of Georgia. “But so far, despite increasingly bearish factors, prices have avoided a complete meltdown.”

For most of spring, the USDA’s supply-and-demand reports for cotton were not kind to the cotton market. Demand slipped as more surplus cotton continued to be found lying around the world.

The April report revised India’s stocks up 3.25 million bales and pushed the 2011 crop-year ending stocks to 66.07 million bales, up 3.75 million bales from the March estimate. Also, world demand dropped 1 million bales from the March estimate.

But there was good news. U.S. exports rose 400,000 bales and China imports rose 2 million bales. Offsetting this, however, Chinese use was lowered 1 million bales — so together, this raised China ending stocks by 3 million bales.

The large world stocks and weak demand weigh heavy on prices now, Shurley says. But as USDA forecasters predict, there’s a chance prices can rally.

Virginians fight dry spell

Weed scientist Henry Wilson of Virginia Tech’s Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center says this year he sees that kind of enthusiasm Texans talk about in growers.

“I do think there is a lot of concern about getting started because of the drought,” Wilson notes. “I’m located on the Eastern Shore, and parts of North Carolina and parts of Virginia have had some showers that we haven’t had. We are extremely dry up here, but I don’t know how far that area goes.”

The report from South Carolina is similar in many respects, although the drought is more extreme. Going into the planting season (the third week of April), the U.S. Drought Monitor categorized the southern quarter to third of the Palmetto State in the two worst conditions: either D3, extreme drought; or even worse, D4, exceptional drought. Virtually the entire state was labeled in moderate drought or worse.

Still, Jeremy Greene, professor of entomology, soils and plant science at Clemson University’s Edisto Research and Education Center in Blackville, says that though cotton’s price is off the highs of last year, money prospects still remain good enough to keep growers in the game.

Regarding the drought, some growers are hedging their bets with irrigation.

“Irrigation systems are going up around here, and have gone up as fast as installers can put them up,” Greene says. “If you were to buy one and try to put one up, I don’t think you could get it until sometime in 2013.”

Greene is hoping dry weather will be temporary in 2012. “I did hear some long-term forecasts from some weather experts that the data suggest the La Niña pattern may end for us about midsummer, which could lead to more frequent rainfall.”

No cotton Temik in 2012

California growers are particularly concerned cotton growers won’t have Temik (aldicarb) this year.

“There is no single replacement for Temik,” says Roger Isom, executive vice president, California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations. “It could take multiple applications of multiple products to achieve the same effectiveness.”

Farm Progress cotton state editors Richard Davis, Brad Haire, Len Richardson, J.T. Smith and Cecil H. Yancy Jr. contributed to this report.

Zero tolerance to pigweed spreading in Arkansas

One concern is “spreading like a weed” among Arkansas’ cotton farmers.

Last year, growers in Clay County, Ark., banded together to create “pigweed-free zones” to fight the herbicide-resistant weed. Their success has encouraged growers in Crittenden and Desha counties in that state to join the effort to reduce the pigweed’s soil seed bank.

Record temperatures in March gave pigweed a monthlong jump on seed production. Pigweed takes its growth cue from day length and warmth. The record warm winter fooled pigweed into thinking it was fall.

Each pigweed plant produces from 250,000 to 1.5 million seeds.

Dealing with pigweed early in the season requires “spraying them out before we plant,” says Ken Smith, a University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture weed scientist.

Calls from farmers indicate the wide acceptance of the “zero-tolerance” policy.

Last year, Clay County producers and neighbors joined together to pull up, hoe or spray pigweed wherever they found it: in turn rows, ditches, road rights-of-way and field margins.

Andy Vangilder, Clay County Extension chairman, says more cotton farmers are joining the effort this year. “The awareness is definitely there.”

In southeast Arkansas’ Desha County, more than a dozen growers have called to sign on to zero tolerance, says Wes Kirkpatrick, Extension chairman. Growers there are trying to “cut it off at the pass and keep seed production at a minimum,” Kirkpatrick says.

Those growers represent more than 20,000 acres of different crops across the county. Crittenden County has also set up a zero-tolerance zone.

“Growers are recognizing that controlling the soil seed bank is critical,” Smith says.


After last year’s horrible crop disaster, cotton grower Erick Richards of Jones County, Texas, says growers are eager to raise a cotton crop this season. Ginners would like that, too.

This article published in the June, 2012 edition of CAROLINA-VIRGINIA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.

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