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Mid-South farmers and ginners are coping with “unprecedented times” as they try and adjust business models to high commodity prices, higher production/operating costs, and changing demands for crops, says David Blakemore, Campbell, Mo., producer/ginner/warehouseman.
Cotton yields haven't kept pace
For decades cotton prices have been basically stagnant, and when they started increasing there was an accompanying rise in production costs that “put us in a squeeze,” Mississippi farmer/ginner Kenneth Hood said in the panel discussion.
And while corn and soybeans have seen significant advances in average yields, cotton yield advances have not been comparatively good, he says.
Nor do USDA projections out to 2020 show a very large increase in cotton yields.
“Farmers are going to have to continue to get larger if they’re going to be able to buy half-million-dollar cotton pickers,” Hood says.
Prices for cotton may be high now, “But we all have learned in this business that what goes up can pretty quickly come back down. We’ve all been there before.”
With budget troubles and the focus on cuts in government programs, he says, “I think we will see supports for farm programs continue to erode.”
In 1975, he says, “the module builder increased the farmer’s harvesting efficiency and allowed us to extend the ginning season. Now, we’re moving to yet another technology, pickers with on-board module builders, that will further increase efficiency.
“But, while the costs of growing cotton have kept going up, our income from the crop has remained basically stagnant. If farmers are going to buy these expensive new cotton pickers, their farming operations are going to have to get larger.
Our challenge is to find ways to improve yields, to deal with high energy costs, to adopt new technologies, to compete with other crops for land and water, increase global demand and retail consumption, and to find ways to stay competitive with man-made fibers. And I think we will see even fewer gins ginning larger amounts of cotton.”