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Cotton Struggles To '98 Finish Line
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi cotton growers chose to plant fewer acres in 1998 knowing the world market offered little promise. The hot, dry summer prevented a repeat of 1997's record yields, but growers still managed to harvest near the five-year average.
Dr. John Robinson, agricultural economist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, predicted the 1998 farm-gate value of Mississippi's cotton will be about $541 million, down 16 percent from the previous year. Cotton felt a triple whammy from reduced acres, smaller yields and lower prices.
The Asian economic problems are the principle factors impacting cotton.
Dr. O.A. Cleveland, Extension marketing specialist, said the 2 percent decline in world consumption from 1997 may not sound like much, but historically, it was tremendous.
"That 2 percent decline was the largest in 25 years, and only the second of that magnitude in 75 years," Cleveland said. "Because of a drop in consumption, world prices are 21 cents a pound lower than a year ago and 14 cents below six months ago. Additionally, cotton is competing with significantly lower polyester prices."
Domestic cotton and textiles are struggling to compete with foreign goods.
"Textile imports are growing at double digit rates, as Asian textile companies and other cotton producing countries aim for the U.S. consumer. Americans are basically the only consumers comfortable with their economy," Cleveland said. "While the Asian situation will be with us another two or three years, it is stabilizing and we assume the worst is behind us."
Cleveland said 1999 should be slightly better for cotton growers as they adjust to the challenges. An important factor for Mississippi will be future control of cotton's No. 1 pest -- the boll weevil.
"Mississippi cotton growers will be successful only to the extent the boll weevil eradication program is successful," Cleveland said.
Organized eradication efforts are underway in more than half of the state's cotton. North Delta growers will vote in early 1999 on joining growers in all the areas surrounding them. Eliminating boll weevils has significantly decreased the cost of producing cotton in states east of Mississippi.
Dr. Will McCarty, Extension cotton specialist, said growers must eradicate the boll weevil for the cotton industry to survive long term.
"If Mississippi does not eradicate the boll weevil, growers will not have any production costs to consider in the years to come because they won't be growing cotton," he said.
McCarty said Mississippi needs to grow at least a million acres of cotton. 1997 was the first year since 1983 that Mississippi cotton growers planted less than 1 million acres, and only the third time since record keeping began in 1866. Growers harvested another 45,000 acres less in 1998 for total 915,000 acres.
"We've got the ideal land for cotton and the dollars generated by the crop turn over many times in local economies," McCarty said. "Cotton gins, chemical and equipment distributors, consultants and farm labor will feel the pinch with fewer cotton acres."
Planting decisions for 1999 will largely be based on the effort involved for each grower.
"If a grower is considering cotton for the first time or re-entering after laying off a year or so, it will probably take too much effort to get the labor and equipment in place," McCarty said. "But if the grower is already geared up for cotton, it will be a good decision. It is always a good idea to diversify with some corn and soybeans, too."