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Gunnison, Miss., cotton producer Kenneth Hood has made numerous contributions to the U.S. cotton industry, as a leader, entrepreneur and farmer.
For these efforts and his dedication to environmental stewardship, Hood has been awarded the 2014 High Cotton Award for the Delta States by Farm Press Publications.
KENNETH HOOD, High Cotton Award winner for the Delta states, has worked tirelessly to improve profitability for cotton producers across the Cotton Belt.
Hood’s philosophy, on the other hand, is to remove obstacles. This includes opening up his farm to research by NASA, USDA-ARS, Extension, private industry and regulatory agencies. The first Bt cotton grown on a large scale basis in the world was grown on Hood’s farm in 1994. “The EPA practically lived here.”
But it paid off big for U.S. cotton. In 1995, tobacco budworms nearly wiped out the Mid-South cotton crop. Average cotton yields dropped over 200 pounds an acre in Mississippi that year. Some fields were almost zeroed out. But Hood knew then that the Bt technology was going to work when harvested the Bt cotton. “They were on the right track.”
These days, the threats to cotton are much more complex. But Hood believes that technology holds the answers.
“A lot of the seed companies are putting all their emphasis in weed control and insect control. But the key for cotton is to have the same kind of yield advancement we’re seeing in corn. We’ve been raising corn four or five years in Mississippi. We’re already at a 200-plus bushel plateau. We’ve been raising cotton for 100s of years, and we’ve just barely broke the 1,000 pound threshold.”
Hood sees progress, however. “Last year and this year, I see the potential for cotton yield growing to 1,500 pounds to 2,000 pounds. If you get 3-bale cotton at 80 cents, you’re at a $1,200 per acre gross income. All of a sudden, cotton becomes more affordable. Cotton will come back if we can get our yields up. Varieties have to be able to withstand stress, whether it is drought or heat.”
Input costs are also contributing to the decline in Mid-South cotton acres, with weed control, fertilizer and irrigation among his biggest expenses. “My chemical costs went up 25 percent this year, and there are technology fees for planting seed. I used to spend $25 an acre to buy planting seed. This year, it cost me $118 an acre to plant cotton, with technology fees and seed treatment. And I planted over three times.”
Irrigation is also a key to higher cotton yields for Hood. Over the last decade or more he’s increased his irrigation capacity through land-forming, while paying close attention to conservation practices.