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Cotton's high acreage got good, early start
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi's 1.7 million acres of cotton got off to a good start and are developing well as the crop heads into mid-season.
Farmers planted 400,000 more cotton acres than in 2000, bringing the state's acreage to the highest level it's been since 1974. Soybean acreage is way down, and this year is the first in nearly 40 that cotton acreage has exceeded soybean acreage.
Will McCarty, cotton specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said planting started in early April and was finished in mid- to late-May.
"Considering the amount of acres we got planted, we planted it in a very timely fashion," McCarty said. "It rained and got cool for a few days in April and slowed things down, but we had a fairly small amount of replanting. We got things off to a fairly uniform stand and cotton began the season developing pretty well across the state."
The high acreage is not necessarily a good thing and could lower the state average yield.
"Anytime our cotton acres go much above 1.2 million acres, we begin to plant cotton on acreage that is not too well suited for it," McCarty said.
Frequent rains in June kept some farmers out of the fields when they needed to spray for weeds. A lack of rain in other areas meant irrigation started in June, which is ahead of normal.
"We started July with pretty good vegetative growth in the field," McCarty said. "Most growers have adequate fruit retention. Right now the plate is set for July and August, and we need continuing moisture through the next two months."
Cotton prices are quite low. Charlie Forrest, Extension agricultural economist, said cotton has been at 38 cents a pound recently, the lowest it's been since the early 1970s.
"According to MSU estimates, cotton costs $570 an acre to produce on sandy soil under usual practices. The state's five-year average yield is 760 pounds an acre, and the break-even price is 60 to 65 cents a pound," Forrest said. "Cotton farmers are probably going to lose a little money this year unless they are adequately insured."
Jay Phelps, Extension area cotton agent in Sunflower County, said because of these low prices, farmers are trying to decide how much they can afford to put into the crop.
"We're getting to a point that some tough decisions are going to have to be made about whether to go ahead with inputs such as insecticides and plant growth regulators, or not spend the money for inputs that are not going to yield economic returns," Phelps said.
Thrips numbers were heavy early in the season, and Phelps said tarnished plant bugs have caused some problems.
"We're able to manage them, so it's just a matter of scouting and treating," he said.
The good news is that boll weevils have been virtually a non-issue with this year's cotton crop, although Phelps said some fields had to be sprayed the last week of June.