The defining moment for Mid-South production in 2008 came on the winds of two September hurricanes, according to a wrap-up report on Mid-South cotton production, presented at the 2009 Beltwide Cotton Conferences in San Antonio by Arkansas Extension cotton specialist Tom Barber.

The 2008 planting season started with delays due to wet weather, but several states, including Tennessee, went on to have excellent years, Barber said. “This was mainly because of all the rain we had in August and September. Gustav and Ike brought tremendous amounts of rain to the Mid-South. However, Louisiana, southern Arkansas and southern Mississippi lost a lot of cotton to those very same hurricanes.”

Yields were exceptional in every cotton state except Louisiana, which lost 60,000 acres to hurricanes and suffered yield losses on the rest. The state averaged 517 pounds per acre in 2008, and produced 208,000 bales of cotton.

Barber said Louisiana growers could reduce cotton acreage by 5 percent to 10 percent in 2009. More early-mid maturity varieties are expected to be planted.

Arkansas producers averaged 990 pounds of cotton per acre in 2008, and produced 1.32 million bales of cotton. Hurricanes brought plenty of rain to the crop in the northern part of the state, but resulted in the loss of a significant percentage of the crop in southeast Arkansas. “We had one of the best crops we ever had going into August,” Barber said.

Resistant weeds have become a major problem in Arkansas, Barber noted. “Operating costs are a major concern. We have a lot more corn and soybeans than we've had in the past, and we're seeing a new bug complex. Plant bugs have been a problem, but now we're starting to see more stink bugs.”

Arkansas cotton acreage for 2009 could be flat to as high as 30 percent, according to Barber, depending on grain prices versus cotton prices.

Mississippi producers averaged 947 pounds per acre in 2008 and produced 710,000 bales of cotton. The crop was late due to a wet spring, and in many cases, planting was finished in June. In the lower portion of the state, there were areas of severe boll rot and hard lock due to hurricanes. Acreage could drop to 200,000 acres to 250,000 acres in 2009.

Tennessee producers harvested an average of 917 bales per acre in 2008, and produced 535,000 bales of cotton. Glyphosate-resistant weeds are the state's No. 1 issue. Acreage for 2009 could be flat to up slightly depending on commodity prices.

Missouri producers had an excellent crop, producing 1,048 pounds per acre, and 670,000 bales of cotton in 2008. “A lot of the growers in the state say they harvested the best crop they've ever had,” Barber said. Spider mites are becoming a major pest in the state, but resistant weeds remain the key issue. Acreage should remain flat in 2009. Missouri has embraced B2 Flex varieties more quickly than other Mid-South states.

Total harvested acres in the Mid-South in 2008 came in at 1.847 million acres, which was down 867,000 acres, or 32 percent, from 2007. Average yields were 913 pounds per acre, and 3.51 million bales of cotton were produced. In 2006, Mid-South cotton acreage was a little over 4.2 million acres.

While the rate in decline of acreage appears to be slowing in some states, others could continue to see reductions in 2009.

By state, Missouri harvested 307,000 acres in 2008, down 19 percent from 2007; Tennessee harvested 280,000 acres, down 45 percent; Mississippi harvested 360,000 acres down 45 percent; Arkansas harvested 640,000 acres, down 25 percent, and Louisiana harvested 260,000 acres, down 22 percent.

Challenges for Mid-South cotton, according to Barber include higher production costs for dealing with glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth and growing problems with plant bugs and spider mites. As growers are contemplating their crop mix for 2009, there's also new rules and regulations of the new farm bill to take into consideration.

“As I talk to farmers, a lot of them are telling me that farming grain is just easy,” Barber said. “They have more time to be with family. We're seeing our infrastructure changing. We're seeing a lot of grain gins being built in the Mid-South.”

But there are some positives for cotton as well, according to Barber. Flex varieties showed they can perform well, diesel fuel and fertilizer prices are decreasing and the module-building pickers are showing they can reduce labor costs for producers. Barber added that cotton's heritage is also a consideration, since its bounty has maintained towns and communities of the Mid-South for generation after generation.

Six cotton varieties made up a large percentage of plantings in the Mid-South — DP 555 BG/RR, DP 164 B2RF, DP 445 BG/RR, DP 444 BG/RR, ST 5242 BR and ST 4554 B2RF.

In Arkansas, the most popular variety was DP 445 BG/RR planted on 22 percent of the acreage followed by ST 4554 B2RF, planted on 18 percent; Louisiana, DP 555 BG/RR, 40 percent, followed by ST 4554 B2RF, 14 percent; Missouri, ST 4554 B2RF, 46 percent, followed by DP 445 BG/RR, 11 percent; Mississippi, ST 4554 B2RF, 17 percent, followed by ST 5242 BR, 15 percent; and Tennessee, DP 444 BG/RR, 51 percent followed by ST 4554 B2RF, 28 percent.