Mid-South farms may mirror the Midwest this year, what with horizon-to-horizon corn, but while that trend is projected to continue for the immediate future, reports of cotton's demise are premature, industry leaders say.
“I personally believe cotton acreage will come back up,” long-time Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture Bob Odom said at the summer meeting of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association at Baton Rouge. “I think we'll see corn stay strong another two or three years, then drop back as we learn more about producing ethanol from cellulosic feedstock. That should lessen the pressure on corn and shift some of those acres back to cotton.”
A step in that direction occurred earlier this year when Celunol Corp. broke ground on a 1.4 million-gallon demonstration-scale cellulosic ethanol production facility at Jennings, La. The plant, which will produce ethanol from sugarcane and wood wastes, is in the forefront of programs to develop technologies for using non-crop feedstocks and agricultural wastes to make fuel. The company may develop a commercial-scale plant at the site in the future.
Acknowledging the concern — particularly in the ginning industry — surrounding the significant drop in cotton acres this year in favor of corn, Odom said, “We need to see cotton rebound in order to keep the industry's infrastructure in place, and a healthy ginning sector is critical to that.”
Louisiana's acreage this year is the smallest since 1975, and though ginners at the meeting said the state has prospects for a good cotton crop, despite too much rain in July and “a terrible plant bug situation,” most gins are expected to operate at a greatly reduced volume this fall and three likely will not do any ginning at all.
Bill Richardson, chancellor of the Louisiana State University AgCenter, said the organization continues “a strong commitment to cotton and the ginning industry.”
He cited, in particular, the university's Jack Hamilton chair in cotton production research, established to honor the late Lake Providence grower/ginner/innovator, and made possible through a $1 million endowment by producers and various segments of the cotton industry, including a substantial contribution by the Southern Cotton Ginners Association.
“Cotton has been through a lot of far-reaching changes over the years,” says Tim Price, SCGA executive vice president, “but it has always been resilient, adapted, and remained strong. Cotton has been a leader among commodities in new products and technologies that have improved efficiency and quality.
“There's a lot of fantastic research going on in genetics, chemistry, machinery, technology, and ginning, with enormous investments by major companies who obviously feel cotton will continue to have a key role in American agriculture. While we may be experiencing a bit of a downturn now, I believe we'll come out of this a very viable industry.
“Despite the stories of cotton's demise, we've never been an industry to roll over and play dead; cotton's survivability in this country's agriculture is unequalled by any other commodity.
“We need to keep that story out front to counteract the perceived messages of negativity in the media. I don't know of many people who're selling their cotton pickers.”