Successful planting got Mississippi cotton off to a strong start, and prospects look good for the crop as long as growing conditions and demand remain favorable.

Darrin Dodds, cotton specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said 2010 has been one of the state’s most successful cotton plantings yet.

“It all went off without a hitch for the most part and wrapped up the first week of June,” Dodds said.

Cotton acreage in Mississippi is up 38 percent from last year, more than any other state in the Mid-South.

“Cotton acres have increased, primarily due to a more favorable economic environment than in the past few years,” Dodds said. “It also is an attractive choice because it makes a great rotation crop, especially with corn.”

The increased acreage and international demand has resulted in significant price fluctuation.

“Demand has picked up from the lackluster time in 2009 when the economy was still shaky. Early this year, the U.S. dollar was falling, which made goods like cotton cheaper to overseas buyers,” said John Michael Riley, Extension agricultural economist. “This was beneficial to all U.S. cotton growers, and prices rose over that time period. However, prices fell when it became clear that the U.S. will produce a large crop.”

Riley said demand for cotton picked up in early August as the U.S. dollar weakened slightly and supplies from last year’s harvest started to get tight.

“Current December futures prices are 79.5 cents per pound, and we’ll see some more fluctuation,” Riley said. “Texas seems to be having a good growing season because of favorable weather, while Mississippi growers have faced some challenges. The Texas crop will put some pressure on the prices.”

Dodds said the challenges faced by Mississippi growers are manageable.

“So far, the irrigated crop is looking good,” Dodds said. “The dryland crop is variable and could use a little more rain, but we don’t want a repeat of last year by getting too much rain. In addition, the excessive heat the first week in August is causing pollination and fruit shed issues in some irrigated and dryland fields.”

Dodds said the high temperatures are accelerating the maturity of the crop and could lead to an early harvest.

“It is kind of early to say, but we may be harvesting a couple weeks ahead of schedule,” Dodds said. ”We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Extension cotton entomologist Angus Catchot said cotton growers have been dealing with some pest issues.

“Spider mites have been a challenge, particularly in the Delta,” Catchot said. “We’ve had a big surge of spider mites and made a record number of treatments this year. As corn dries down, the mites are moving over to cotton, and growers are working hard to control them.”

Controlling spider mites requires targeted pesticide applications.

“With many other pests, one type of insecticide can be used to control several different pest species,” Catchot said. “But spider mites require an application that is developed to control them specifically. It can get costly.”

Tarnished plant bugs have been the biggest challenge producers face, and Catchot said growers will likely average six or more treatments in the Delta and one or two in the hill region to rid fields of this insect.

“Overall, the pest problems have been manageable but costly in some areas,” he said. “Growers are staying on top of what needs to be done.”