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Cotton Loses Ground To Other Crops
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Cotton, once king in Mississippi, is losing ground to other crops as production costs and market prices prompt some growers to venture away from their historical favorite.
Dr. Will McCarty, extension cotton specialist at Mississippi State University, said switching from cotton can be a difficult move.
"If you already have the cotton equipment and farm labor costs, no other crop will pay the bills like cotton," McCarty said.
Growers typically plant cotton on the best land, which also rents for higher prices.
Sharkey County grower Joel Hill agreed, but said he had no alternative than to leave cotton. 1996 was the 25th year he had been growing cotton. While yields and returns have been steadily dropping since 1991, land rent has not.
Two years ago, Hill planted about 3,000 acres of cotton; last year, he dropped down to 1,500; and this year, he doesn't plan to plant any.
"'m not mad at cotton. It just looks like it got mad at me," Hill said.
"I've managed to sell some cotton equipment, but still can't find anyone to buy the pickers," Hill said. "If I ever go back to cotton, I might look into hiring a custom harvester."
Hill attributes the declining yields to years without rotation.
"The Freedom to Farm act has helped us do what is best for our operations," he said.
Although corn prices are not as strong as in 1996, market prices have attracted more farmers to corn and soybeans this year.
John Coccaro, area cotton agent in Sharkey County, said farmers can swap planting intentions among the grain crops fairly easily, but with cotton they have to make decisions more in advance.
"Farmers have to look at labor, equipment, gin interests and land costs," Coccaro said. "They have to look at all the market prices when they are determining their acreage."
Coccaro said the South Delta cotton yields in the last three seasons have been about 20 percent off the five-year average. Sharkey County cotton acreage is expected to drop from 43,000 acres in 1996 to about 38,000 acres this year.