Louisiana’s 2018 cotton crop is being harvested with mixed reactions.
“A lot of people were happy; a lot of people were sad,” said LSU AgCenter cotton specialist Dan Fromme.
Northwest Louisiana was hit with drought during the growing season, while the northeast corner had good rainfall. Central Louisiana had areas of drought and adequate rainfall, so yields varied there. About half of Louisiana’s cotton crop is irrigated, he said, so those fields are not as dependent on rainfall.
This year’s Louisiana acreage totaled 189,000, compared to 212,000 acres in 2017.
Normally all of the cotton would have been harvested by now, but 5 to 10 percent of the crop remains in the field as farmers wait for drier conditions, Fromme said.
Last year’s statewide yield averaged 926 pounds of lint per acre. Fromme estimated this year’s yield is higher, probably 1,050 to 1,100 pounds per acre.
“It’s going to be the best crop the state has had since 2014,” Fromme said. “It could have been a lot better if we’d gotten timely rainfall.”
If the state’s cotton acreage increases, it won’t be much. “I don’t see cotton making a big jump because we don’t have the infrastructure,” he said.
He explained that the number of cotton gins to process the crop has dropped to 16 to 18, and gin capacity will limit any acreage increases.
AgCenter economist Mike Deliberto said the current November price is 74 cents a pound, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture anticipates a price of 71 to 77 cents for 2019. Last year, prices averaged 69 cents per pound.
Some farmers have been concerned that wet conditions at harvest are affecting quality, which can result in a discounted price buyers are paying, Deliberto said.
Trade tensions, particularly with China, have reduced USDA projection for U.S. cotton exports from 16 million bales to a revised projection of 15 million bales this year.
About 80 percent of American cotton is exported, and countries such as Vietnam and Turkey are customers. But Deliberto said China will have to buy more U.S. cotton.
“I think there’s some optimism. We’re their largest supplier of high-quality cotton,” he said.
Offsetting the export decline is a production decrease caused by hurricanes that hit the southeastern states, reducing the crop from the original estimate of 19.7 million bales to the revised estimate of 18.4 million bales, Deliberto said.
Louisiana cotton acreage could increase if prices hold, but he agreed that a cotton acreage increase would depend on gin capacity.
“Gins are pretty much at capacity now,” Deliberto said. And farmers who haven’t grown cotton in recent years are reluctant to buy the expensive, specialized equipment needed for that commodity.