Business is business, as they say, and considering current market prices it’s understandable why the Mid-South’s rich soils are increasingly being planted in grains. But, whether built on sweet nostalgia or hard-core infrastructure, King Cotton hasn’t gone down without a fight.

Just two signs of the times: An expected dip in worldwide cotton plantings in 2013 while major upgrades to a Mississippi grain facility to service client farmers are finished.

In 2013/2014, the International Cotton Advisory Committee projects that “global cotton production will decrease by 11 percent to 23.2 million tons (106.56 million bales) … due to lower cotton prices and increased attractiveness of competing crops.

“This would be the second consecutive season of decline in cotton production and the smallest output in four years. Production is expected to fall sharply in the United States and Turkey, where competition with grains and soybeans is strong.”

For more, see here and here.

Meanwhile, grain producers will be pleased to know that Express Grain Terminals in Sidon, Miss., will add 1.1 million bushels of grain storage and a 12,500-bushel-per-hour grain dryer (the largest grain dryer in production). The additions – expected to be ready for the 2013 harvest -- will increase the facility’s grain storage to 2.5 million bushels and drying capacity to 17,500 bushels per hour. The upgrades will allow grain drying capacity at the Sidon terminal to triple from 2012 levels.

Mississippi corn history

The distinct trend away from cotton and to grains in the Mid-South began showing up in earnest a few years ago. The history between the two, though, began much earlier.

“There is an interesting history of corn acreage in Mississippi, beginning shortly after the Civil War,” Erick Larson, Mississippi State University corn specialist.

It turns out the state harvested over one million acres of corn around 1866 and 1867. Corn acreage steadily increased to two million acres in 1894. There were almost three million corn acres in the state in 1917 and that total was exceeded in 1921.

“Basically, Mississippi maintained over one million corn acres until 1960,” says Larson. “That was largely because the animals used to work the ground needed to be fed. When mechanization improved and power equipment became good enough to plow the land, the need to grow corn decreased.”

That’s why, by 1970, Mississippi only had 223,000 acres of corn. By 1980, the state had less than 100,000 acres of corn. As mechanization took hold, corn was hardly grown as a cash crop.

“In 1990, we still had only 140,000 acres. In the following years corn planting began to pick up. Between 1992 and 1995, acreage was between 190,000 and 275,000.”

Larson came to his current position in 1995. A year later, there was a significant change in the farm bill with ‘freedom to farm,’ which allowed producers to grow a program crop different than their five-year history.

That was important, “because corn may never be the best adapted crop and won’t work as well when grown continuously in the South. It’s a very complimentary crop and does very well in rotation systems. That 1996 farm bill change allowed growers to grow corn as markets dictated.

“That led to a big corn increase in 1996 when we planted over 600,000 acres for the first time since 1965 – over 30 years.”

Mississippi then maintained about 500,000 corn acres until 1998 when there a big aflatoxin problem arose. That dinged acreage a bit and the state stabilized at 450,000 corn acres through 2006.

Then, there was a drastic upswing in 2007 when Mississippi producers planted 930,000 acres of corn. “We still haven’t eclipsed that high mark but have been working towards it with over 700,000 acres since 2007,” says Larson. “That’s been dictated by commodity markets – corn and soybeans have been very favorable compared to cotton during that time period.”

For an Arkansas perspective, see here.