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Cotton yields encouraging, but not enough to bump acres

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This season's Mid-South cotton crop has produced uexpectedly good yields, but is not likely to result in growers changing their minds about going with more corn and less cotton next spring.

Mid-South states could see reductions of as much as 50 percent this season, as high grain prices relative to cotton continue to influence crop mix.

Each season provides farmers with a different set of challenges from the year before. For Mid-South producers this season, it began with resisting the temptation to start rolling the planters too early, due to a spate of unseasonably warm weather.

In March, the high daily temperature in Memphis, Tenn., exceeded 80 degrees for 12 days. In April, 16 days surpassed the mark, in May, 28 days, including 9 days with high temperatures over 90. By the end of June, supposedly the end of spring, the thermometer reached a scorching 104 degrees.

Most producers did hold off planting until April and May. But still, the weather contributed to the earliest start to a cotton season in recent memory, an advantage that remained most of the summer.

After planting, the crop jumped out of the ground as Mother Nature bathed Mid-South soils in warmth. Eventually, the crop slowed down as dry weather settled in, then earliness took a hit from Hurricane Isaac and related rains that fell for weeks afterward. Yield potential appeared to have taken a hit.

But as cotton pickers started to roll through the Mid-South’s cotton fields this fall, producers started to realize that the crop was a lot better than they thought.

There have been some exceptions. For some states, excellent yields were less the result of consistency and more the result of some very large yields offsetting a lot of low yields.

Could these good yields change a few minds about what to plant next year? After all, the profit equation for cotton is just as reliant on pounds than price. It’s not likely, however, at current grain and cotton prices. Cotton will still go on traditional cotton ground and on land tied to gins.

Barring a spectacular run-up in prices, Arkansas, cotton acreage could slip to as low as 300,000 acres, a 48 percent reduction from 2011. Despite a crop that did better than what most expected this year, Mississippi could see a 40 percent decline in acres, to around 365,000 acres. Missouri could see its cotton acreage slashed by half in 2013, to an anemic 184,000 acres. Tennessee could also lose as much as 40 percent of its cotton acreage in 2013, to as low as 294,000 acres. Louisiana will see a significant reduction in cotton acreage unless the economics change drastically.

The good news is that cotton fundamentals should change rather quickly after China runs down its surplus and supplies begin to shrink around the world. Corn fundamentals could change as well if the world produces a bumper crop in 2013 to replace the current shortfall produced by a drought-shriveled Midwest crop in 2012. Hopefully, this will be just a one-year adjustment.

 

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