Although corn planting had slowed to a crawl in Louisiana due to dry conditions in late March, Extension cotton specialist Sandy Stewart wasn't making an upward adjustment in anticipated cotton acreage because of it.
“If we catch a shower, I think there is still a fair amount of corn to be planted. I've heard some producers say they are going to plant corn well into April. And there is still corn seed available.
“It's one of those springs when every time you talk to someone, your estimate for cotton acres goes down. Historically, we're going to have one of the smallest cotton crops we've had in Louisiana.”
On the other hand, a smaller cotton crop could mean producers are less stressed for time during the season, meaning more opportunity for timely management of the crop. “Cotton is such an intensively managed crop, and sometimes when we are spread thin with a large cotton acreage, a producer may expose himself to a little more risk with early planting.
“When you have a smaller crop, there is less reason to plant really early and take a chance on getting cold weather in early April. There are more chances to be more timely with pesticide or plant growth regulator applications.” This could result in better yields, quality and profitability for cotton producers.
Corn acreage could also have an impact on insect spectrums, according to Stewart. Cotton producers should keep a close eye on plant bugs this season, especially in fields adjacent to corn, Stewart advises.
“We have a lot of data to support the fact that plant bug numbers are usually much higher when cotton is adjacent to corn than when cotton is adjacent to soybeans or another cotton field. Obviously, we're going to have a lot of those situations. With this many acres of corn going in, it's going to be important to manage those cotton fields for plant bugs.”
Dundee, Miss., producer Justin Cariker planted 700 acres of corn this spring, which is 700 acres more than he planted in 2006. But he's still planting around 3,300 acres of cotton. “I hate to give up on cotton. We have so much infrastructure with these cotton pickers and boll buggies.
“Everybody has been worried about how the gins would take the reduced acreage, but on the flipside, we have sold some cottonseed for $130 a ton, which is $20 a ton more than we got last year. That will help the cotton industry a little bit.”
Cariker rowed up his corn fields in the fall. The first time corn went over $4, “we locked the basis at 10 under on 50,000 bushels. The following Monday, I bought my seed and a corn header.” He planted while there was still plenty of moisture in the ground. His corn has emerged, but many farmers in Mississippi had stopped planting corn by the end of March due to dry weather.
All Cariker's corn will be Roundup Ready, half of that in stacked-gene hybrids. “My big concern for going with Roundup Ready corn is drift coming from my own fields. I've got 400 acres of my corn right in the middle of a 1,000-acre block of cotton.”
Cariker doesn't have a combine to go with his new header, but his thinking is that there probably won't be a shortage of available combines come harvest. Cariker plans on storing corn that he didn't lock the basis on until January.
As of March 29, Cariker's corn crop was at V-2 to V-3. “It has the full collar around the base and it's putting on the other true leaves. I think we're well on our way.
“One thing I like about corn is that you can plant it 2 inches deep and you're not scratching your head about getting it too deep. I think corn is going to stay in our mix for a while, as part of a rotation with cotton. I've heard you can get 200-pound yield increases on cotton after the corn year. That may be stretching it, but I have neighbors who have been growing corn at $2 and doing well. At $4, you have to give it a whirl.”
Marty White, Jonesboro, Ark., who farms with his sons, Logan and Jesse, planted corn for the first time in five years this spring, going with 1,600 acres, while cutting cotton acres by 25 percent.
“We're taking more of marginal, black cotton ground out of cotton and putting it in corn, to build it up to go back to cotton eventually.”
The expense of growing cotton “is terrible,” White said. “Our costs per acre are going up so much, with our fuel, fertilizer and seed costs. Something is going to have to change. We can't keep going the way we're going, not in my part of the country. I have some cotton ground that makes really good yields, but the heavier ground is simply not prime cotton ground. So we're putting it in wheat, soybeans and corn for now, waiting until cotton prices improve.”
White says his January projections for nitrogen costs “are already out the door. They're already at least $100 a ton more than what I projected. That's adding at least another $15 to $20 an acre to my costs.”
White's supplier has assured him that he's covered on nitrogen supplies. “He thinks prices are going to be high, but we'll probably have enough to do what we need to do. Cost is going to ration demand. There'll be enough fertilizer around if you want to pay for it.”