What is in this article?:
- Cotton losing Delta ground to corn.
- Producer John Hall explains the impacts on his area of East Arkansas.
- History of two crops in the region.
CYPERT, ARKANSAS, PRODUCER John Hall has watched his area of the Delta move big into corn. “Being in business means you have to go where the dollars are. There isn’t much room to be sentimental.”
Back in Cypert
Hall was born and raised in Cypert. His father was a city man, brought up in nearby Helena, although his mother was raised here. Hall’s father didn’t come to the farm until 1935.
“I took over the farm in 1973 and worked with my two brothers. More recently, my son, Mark, came home from college and started farming with me. I’ve turned the farm over to him to run.”
A second son, a physician, still works in the area.
As far as an acreage breakdown, “We’ve got about 1,500 acres of cotton, 600 acres of wheat and 1,500 of soybeans. Of course, we’ll double-crop the wheat with beans.
“The wheat looks really good, so far. We harvested a little bit a couple of days ago and it was promising. The strip we cut had a good test weight and I’m guessing we’ll be around 75 bushels. We cut about 3,000 bushels before rain chased us out of the field.”
What will it take to boost cotton acreage again?
“First,” says Hall, “the price has to go up. Producers say they can’t raise it at current prices, that they’d lose money. Everyone is different, although we’ve been doing pretty well with cotton – yields and selling at a decent price through Staplcotn.”
And when cotton comes back, Hall has faith that modern technology will ease the transition. “Cotton isn’t a bear to grow around here. It’s plenty finicky at the beginning but once it’s up and going, it’s tough.
“With the modern technologies now available I don’t think it will be hard to go back to cotton.”
Another ingredient in the mix is the desire of producers to update equipment. “Everyone seems to want to get rid of old equipment and buy the new round-bale pickers. But those machines are expensive. You know, it’s hard to work out paying for a $600,000 picker with 80-cent cotton.
“The round baling is very attractive because of the labor situation here. We just don’t have enough labor in this area.”
Surprisingly, that isn’t the case with the Goodluck crew. “We have a good, local crew. A lot of women work at the gin. They run our press and our scales.” The ginner and his father “run the yard and take care of the plant for us.”
The gin is a four-stand, “but it isn’t at 50- or 60-bale-per-hour capacity. Around 35 bales is all we can do in an hour. Since 1972, it was added on to. We put module builder heads in and added press rams and things like that. We certainly keep it up. But it was designed for between 30 to 40 bales per hour. You can’t get more out of it without putting in a lot more money to put in faster stands and the like.”
The move to corn began with farmers “easing into it.” But then, over the last two years, corn tightened its grip on the valentine.
“When the price of soybeans spiked so high the cotton acres starting tanking,” says Hall. “Then, corn prices took off and everyone jumped on that train. Corn brings in, typically, anywhere from 180 to 210 bushels (per acre).
“This area is ahead of the game because we have excellent water. We’re close enough to the (Mississippi) River and haven’t had a lot of rice acreage here to suck the water table down.”
Hall gestures to shiny center pivots in the distance making slow rotations over young corn.
“In the last 30 years – after the 1980 ‘burnout’ – is when irrigation really was adopted here. After that exceptionally hot summer in 1980, farmers said ‘we can’t stand this anymore’ and started looking to irrigate more and more.
“When cotton comes back, we’re set up for it. It’ll happen.”