Bill Robertson steps a few rows into a verification field west of Marianna, Ark. A baseball has somehow managed to find its way into the seedlings. He brushes the dirt from the seams and tosses it into the yard of the nearest house.

“Can’t have kids wondering where their ball is,” Robertson chuckles beneath a cowboy hat.

After eight years with the National Cotton Council, a happy Robertson is back for a second stint as University of Arkansas cotton specialist.

How has he found things since returning?

“I am really impressed with our (Extension) agents that were new when I left. They are on the ball with not only their research but the way they interact with producers. And it’s great that they’re up to speed on new technologies and other things because when they’re asked a question by farmers they can answer it.”

One marked change during his time away has been the drop in cotton acres.

As for 2014, “it’s kind of early to tell exactly what our state cotton acreage will be this year. There has been some replanting this spring, but not a lot.

“In a broader sense, I think – and others have said the same thing -- we’ve hit the bottom in terms of acreage and will now rebound. When I left Arkansas, acreage was generally around the one million mark. In 2013, we were at 300,000 acres. In 2014, I think acreage will be up a bit.”

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When the National Cotton Council released its survey in February, “it said Mid-South cotton acreage would be up everywhere but Arkansas. I believe the survey showed a five percent decrease in acreage. That kind of puzzled a lot of people and many Arkansas producers were left wondering how that could be true.

“Now, there are definitely areas where cotton acres are down. But, overall, I think we’ll be up a bit over 2013.”

Corn and soybean prices will be a determining factor. “A lot of people I talk to have said if corn hits the $4 range it would take that crop out of the major part of their rotation. Five dollar corn is hard to turn away from and soybean prices are holding up well -- between $12 and $12.50. It’s very competitive for acres, right now.

“Corn is a great rotation crop with cotton. One year of corn followed by two years of cotton is really beneficial in many ways. Even the second year of cotton behind corn adds a lot to yield.”