Andrew Wargo, business agent for Baxter Land Co., in southeast Arkansas, says Baxter Land Co., growers have shifted away from cotton in a big way, but could be coming back somewhat in 2014. “Our cotton acreage was reduced approximately 75 percent in 2013,” Wargo said.

There have been advantages in shifting from cotton to crops like corn and soybeans, including “moving cotton away from monoculture status, which has helped soil health. Some of our land needs the benefit of a corn rotation to put more vegetative matter back in the soil.”

Because corn prices declined significantly over 2013, cotton could start to regain some acres in 2014, Wargo said.  “It’s about economics. When corn gets much below $5 a bushel, with our costs of inputs and irrigation, it doesn’t cash flow real well. So if the corn price stays depressed, and cotton prices stay where they are, I see some shifts among our growers this year to grow more cotton.  We won’t be near where we once were. It would take a dollar or better to get a major shift.”

Breakthroughs in yield potential as well as new methods to minimize input costs could also help, Wargo noted. “We’re going to have to unlock the key to some really major yield increases. The Good Lord gave them to us this year. We were up a bale-plus over normal. We don’t know that we can sustain that. We had the same varieties we had in 2013. We just had a totally different growing season.”

Wargo said the use of cover crops both for weed control and fertility, if workable, “could reduce our fertilizer input cost. We have to have a better economic picture, and it needs to happen quickly enough that we don’t lose infrastructure. We’ve lost one gin in our area this year, and another that opted not to run. Some of the pickers and harvest equipment have been liquidated. Some are still available on equipment yards.”

O.A. Cleveland, professor emeritus, Mississippi State University is bullish on cotton. “We are due to see a decade or so of acreage that is 1 million to 2.5 million acres more than what we saw last year. I also think we’re not going to lose more infrastructure.”

Cleveland sees a corn market coming back into balance, after prices shot up in 2012 and early 2013 due to “very untimely droughts around the world combined with the ethanol mandate. Price ratios are now coming back to where they used to be, which will bring in more cotton.”

U.S. cotton producers continue to have an edge over other cotton-producing countries, Cleveland said. “Given technology, the United States will be a reasonably low-cost producer year in and year out, decade in and decade out.”

Cleveland doesn’t see a return to 15 million to 16 million acres of cotton in the United States in the near future due to the potential for area expansion in other countries. “But cotton in my opinion will continue to be a very bright commodity.”