Studying the economics of a corn-cotton rotation on Delta farms, Steve Martin, agricultural economist at Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, has found that adding a corn rotation can increase both cotton yields and profit margins.

A summary of several experiment station research projects showed a 12 percent yield increase in cotton yield following one year of corn, and a 6 percent increase in cotton yield for the second year of cotton following a corn rotation above continuous cotton.

For revenue comparison purposes, corn yields of 135 bushels per acre were used in Martin’s study.

Surveys of Delta producers rotating corn and cotton showed even more impressive yield increases. Growers reported 15 percent average yield increases in their first year of cotton following a corn rotation, and an average 7 percent yield increase in their second cotton crop following a corn rotation. Corn growers reported 165 bushels per acre under irrigation and 135 bushels in dryland.

Maintaining profit margins

Martin’s on-farm economic study compared a two-year rotation with one year of corn and one year of cotton, and a three-year rotation with one year of corn followed by two years of cotton. Cotton and corn prices in the study ranged from $1.50 to $4 per bushel for corn, and $0.50 to $0.80 per pound for cotton.

“Basically, as long as corn prices are equal or better to the loan rate, you’re better off economically with the rotation. Otherwise, you’ll need a little higher corn yield to maintain the profit level of continuous cotton,” Martin says.

In a three-year rotation consisting of one year of corn followed by two years of cotton, he says, “All you need is a $1.50-per-bushel-or-better price for corn for the rotation to be better economically for you.”

This three year rotation is the most economically beneficial for most growers when compared to continuous cotton, according to Martin.

“Assuming the increases in cotton yields and corn yields are as forecasted in the study, net revenue would be improved with the rotation over continuous cotton,” he says. “The three-year rotation looked a little better in our study, but individual growers may have different cotton or corn yields, and this may affect their individual situations.”

With a corn-cotton rotation, Martin says producers may also be able to reduce the fixed expenses on their whole farm.

One producer involved in the Delta study used to have a 3,000-acre cotton farm, but because of heavy nematode pressure, he switched some of his acreage to corn. The benefits he’s found have surpassed his expectations and have reduced more than his nematode pressure.

While it required x number of tractors to farm 3,000 acres of continuous cotton, he is now able to greatly reduce the amount of farm machinery he needs to farm 2,000 acres of cotton and 1,000 acres of corn.

Martin says further research is needed on corn-cotton rotations, and other crop mix rotations such as cotton and grain sorghum. And, he says, these research projects need to be conducted over various locations and soil types

e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com