Cotton is poised to make a mini-comeback in acres this spring.

As you know, cotton had been doing just fine up until 2007-08, when corn prices started to take off on the ethanol boom. Mid-South cotton producers had little choice but to plant more corn, and soybeans, which had followed corn up.

Mid-South cotton acreage slumped big time, falling from 4.23 million acres in 2006 to 1.67 million acres planted in 2009. King Cotton didn’t have a foot in the grave just yet, but he was definitely seen in the vicinity of the cemetery.

This past fall, cotton optimism began to grow on higher prices based on strengthening fundamentals. Meanwhile corn prices fell on burdensome supplies from record crops and softer export demand.

The result is that early estimates call for a 1-million acre increase in U.S. cotton planted acres this year, including a probable increase in Mid-South acres. This is good for several reasons:

Rural economies need it. Yes, cotton is a costly crop to grow, but every dollar spent on cotton will turn over several times in the rural economy. It keeps communities going, creates jobs, paves highways and builds schools. Cotton is the most ignored stimulus package ever.

The Mid-South is built to handle cotton flow, with module builders, high-volume, module-building pickers, tremendous ginning capacity and plenty of warehouse space. The Mid-South has figured out how to remove almost every single bottleneck from the harvesting, handling and processing operations. We haven’t perfected this grain thing yet.

Cotton gins need a high volume of cotton to lower per bale costs and to turn a profit. Some gins have been idle for a couple of years now, and may not come back unless significant cotton acres return. We need to sustain our existing ginning infrastructure with a steady, healthy supply of cotton.

Cotton producers need to produce cotton. Too many times last year, farmers with cotton coursing through their veins told me, “I didn’t plant any cotton this year.” It’s time to restore order to the cotton universe. Of course, it’s not likely that we’ll return to 14 million to 15 million acres of cotton planted annually in the United States. But 10 million to 12 million acres are nice round figures. That fits nicely with the need to rotate cotton with corn and soybeans to further enhance yields and to help manage the onset of weed resistance in the Mid-South.

Cotton handles the stress and responds to management like no other crop. And with advancements in genetics and seed technology, increases in yield can be just as beneficial as increases in acreage. It’s all about the bales.

The excitement is building. The Mid-South is feeling good about cotton again.

e-mail: erobinson@farmpress.com