Projected cotton acreage in Texas – the nation’s largest cotton-growing state – could be down by as much as 20 percent in the near future, experts claim.

The enduring drought that has ravaged the Midwest has resulted in increased grain prices, and that could provide the impetus for Texas farmers to move more of their land out of cotton, which has been bringing a mediocre return, according to Southeast Farm Press.

One Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service economist told the publication he has heard stories about high sorghum prices that could prove tempting to many growers in the coming year.

John Robinson, an AgriLife Extension cotton economist in College Station, said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Texas’ cotton acreage drop down 20 percent, to about 5 million cotton acres next year.

Texas leads the US in cotton production and annually produces about 25 percent of the nation’s entire crop, according to the Texas A&M University cotton growing program.

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Two years after cotton prices hit lofty levels, growers are facing considerably bleaker prospects, according to market analysts.

Spiking grain and soybean prices has resulted in projections for plunging cotton acreage in 2013, according to analysts speaking at the Ag Market Network’s recent conference call.

“I can’t think of anybody right now who would plant cotton unless they owned a gin,” said Mike Stevens a market analyst based in Louisiana. “As far as the price structure is concerned, cotton is not even competitive.”

In the Southeast and Mid-South, “anything less than a dollar a pound for cotton is not going to draw much interest,” Mississippi State professor emeritus O.A. Cleveland told Southeast Farm Press. “With soybeans at $17 and corn at $8, you’re going to see wholesale switching to soybeans and corn.”

Cotton futures are currently in the low- to mid-70-cent-per-pound range, according to information found on the National Cotton Council of America’s website. A year ago it was selling for 90 cents a pound and the price topped $2 in 2010.

Jarral Neeper, president of Bakersfield, Calif.-based Calcot said, “70-cent cotton just won’t work. Land rents are rising now due to alternative crops. Fertilizer prices have not come down much at all. There are just too many alternatives in California for producers to not look at other things.”

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Cotton projections took a significant hit over the past couple of weeks, as analysts dropped US crop estimates to 15.8 million bales, from 17 million bales recently forecasted by the US Department of Agriculture.

Speaking July 27 at the Ag Market Network’s annual Cotton Roundtable in New York, forecasters pointed to drought conditions in Texas as a key factor behind the 7 percent drop from USDA projections made on July 11.

Surprisingly, while this year’s Texas crop is still struggling under the grip of an extended drought, it’s doing better than last year’s 3.5 million-bale crop, in which 62 percent of the acreage was abandoned, according to Southeast Farm Press.

Moderate to severe drought conditions have existed for more than a year in Texas, said Carl Anderson, extension specialist emeritus at Texas A&M University.

“During the first half of 2012, rainfall across most cotton areas in Texas totaled less than 2 inches,” he said. “However, there have been some localized rains that benefited both irrigated fields and some dryland areas.”

Texas is the nation leading cotton-growing state.

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Among my myriad flaws is that I’m an animal lover.

Why, might you ask, is this an issue? Am I a male equivalent of “cat lady?” Are packs of hounds roaming hither and thither across my furniture, foodstuffs and finery?  Do I possess a weakness that impels me to rescue every abandoned kitten, puppy and wombat I come across?

No.

My issue is that I like to catch animals – the wilder the better.

While I let them go afterwards, I am also of the belief that the inherent beauty of God’s glory is fully evident in each of His creatures, and how better to enjoy the Creator’s handiwork than to reach out and snare his beasts?

As a result, a wide range of His critters have left their mark on me.

Snakes, turtles, birds, lizards, rabbits and fish are among animals by which I’ve been bitten.

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Poor prognostication skills by Indian agriculture experts could be good news for American cotton farmers.

Earlier this month, cotton prices jumped after India announced plans to ban all cotton exports.

India is believed to have opted for a cotton-export ban because the Asian nation is concerned about a possible supply crunch. According to government officials, India’s cotton exports may have overshot government targets last year, according to Southeast Farm Press.

A few days later, officials with the country’s commerce industry said they would allow cotton cleared by customs before March 4 to be exported, easing the situation somewhat, according to an Indian agriculture blog.

It’s unclear if the price surge will be long-lasting, according to Southeast Farm Press.

“We’ll probably continue to see higher prices in the short-term,” Max Runge, Auburn University Extension economist told the publication. “But I don’t think we can count on any long-term effects.

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It’s not exactly a question that’s perplexed mankind for millennia, but blogger Janice Person writing at a colorful adventure examines the idea of whether cotton or cottonseed is edible.

Short answer “yes” with an “if,” long answer “no” with a “but.”

Seriously, Person points out that there is no simple answer to the question, other than at present it’s best not to try eating cotton or cottonseed. (Cotton candy doesn’t count.)

Of course, the agriculture industry has long made use of cotton byproducts for things other than simply using the cotton fibers for textiles.

Cottonseed is used to produce cottonseed oil, which, after refining, can be consumed by humans like any other vegetable oil. Also, cottonseed meal left over after processing can be fed to some livestock and cottonseed hulls can be added to dairy cattle rations for roughage.

But the main problem that keeps cottonseed from being a food source for humans is a natural chemical produced by cotton plants called gossypol.

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Organic cotton continued a nearly decade-long growth trend in 2011, with approximately 16,000 acres planted, according to the Organic Trade Association.

That was up sharply from 2010, when nearly 12,000 acres of organic cotton were planted.

Last year’s total represented the largest number of acres planted since 1999, according to the 2010 and Preliminary 2011 US Organic Cotton Production & Marketing Trends report conducted by the OTA.

However, harvested acres and bales are expected to be down by 38 and 45 percent, respectively, due to a devastating drought in the Southern Plains, according to Southeast Farm Press.

Extremely dry conditions in Texas forced farmers there to abandon more than 65 percent of their planted crop in 2011, the publication added.

A modest acreage gain of two percent is forecast for 2012, bringing plantings of US organic cotton to 16,406 acres.

Organic cotton is cotton grown from non-genetically modified plants without the use of fertilizers or pesticides.

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Nine months ago, cotton was sitting pretty at an all-time high price of $2.197 a pound; today, it’s down to 90 cents a pound and could decline another 15 percent by the end of next year.

The cause for the precipitous drop is the combination of a record crop and falling consumption, which is expanding global stockpiles to levels unseen in more than half a decade, according to Bloomberg.

Harvests are projected to increase 7.5 percent to nearly 124 million bales (27 million metric tons) in the 12 months ending in July, while demand drops to a three-year low of 114 million bales, the US Department of Agriculture estimates.

Although the price has dropped, it has exceeded 85 cents for most of the last year. That’s above the 75-cent range considered the break-even point for profits for many US growers, according to the (Memphis) Commercial Appeal.

“Bid up by demand abroad, cotton reached the highest price in March in 140 years of official records,” according to the publication. “The run-up hasn’t showered cash on all farms, however. When prices began rising a year ago, many growers locked in sales contracts for their crop, missing the March peak.”

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The crop perhaps most associated with the South is the subject of a Farm Press photo contest that will run through Nov. 1.

Farm Press, which publishes Southeast Farm Press among other publications, is looking for the best photo that reminds readers of cotton’s picturesque beauty.

Cotton is “as much a part of Southern farm culture as Spanish moss on live oaks, azaleas in April and sliced watermelon on a hot summer evening,” Slate Canon writes in the Farm Press Blog. “Snow-white fields ready for harvest hold promise of a good return for hard work and perseverance. 

“And from the time the first seedling pushes through the soil, to first bloom, to boll fill and finally to the massive pickers marching through fields leaving brown swaths in the white landscape, a cotton crop is a work of art,” she adds.

Indeed, there are few things more Southern that zipping through a rural county in the late afternoon and coming over a hill upon a field of cotton so full that it looks as though a freak storm dumped a couple of inches of snow on the landscape. Or seeing wisps of cotton blowing across a country highway, catching on nearby stalks of dried corn or piling up in ditches.

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California cotton growers are facing a fungus that could not only lay waste to their livelihood, but impact other parts of the Cotton Belt, as well.

An insidious soil fungus known as Fusarium Race 4, or Race 4 for short, is threatening the ability of cotton farmers in the Golden State’s San Joaquin Valley to continue to expand, according to Western Farm Press.

“This particular race has been around awhile, but with the expanded cotton acreage this season it has been found in far more areas than ever before,” according to the publication.

Race 4 has been identified in all six San Joaquin Valley cotton-producing counties in more than 200 total locations.

“Although not as menacing elsewhere, it also poses a threat to the rest of the US Cotton Belt and could have an impact on California as a source of premium cotton planting seed for varieties to be sold throughout the US and the world,” Western Farm Press added.

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