AgFax Midsouth Cotton: At This Rate, Will There Be Enough Seed And Gins?

©Debra L Ferguson Stock Images

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Owen Taylor, Editor

OVERVIEW

Cotton planting gained momentum this week with nearly ideal conditions across a wide area…up to a point. Rain is in the forecast late in the week and into the weekend. But in parts of the upper Delta, at least some rain fell on Wednesday.

More delays are expected if the forecast plays through. This already has been an excessively wet year through much of our coverage area and growers have been scrambling to catch up.

Unpicked cotton remains in the field in parts of northwest Louisiana. See comments by Steve Schutz.

Optimism about cotton seems to be the main thread in conversations as we start the season. That’s tempered with several realities.

  • Tariff-related uncertainty and softening cotton prices are part of the picture, although most growers are even less excited about the alternatives. In places, soybean acreage is taking a decided hit.
  • Seed quality and availability are way less than perfect. Seed companies had been signaling growers and crop advisors about that earlier in the year. How much cotton some growers might add could be limited by seed availability.
  • Ginning capacity will be stretched thin in parts of the region. Some gins aren’t taking on new customers and/or advising their farmers against planting more acres. All that might limit some expansion.

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CROP REPORTS

Ty Edwards, Edwards Ag Consulting, LLC, Water Valley, Mississippi:

“Maybe 10% of our anticipated corn acres have actually been planted, and I think some guys are still putting a little corn seed in the ground. That will continue over the next few days (from 4/29) and then they will switch to something else.

“To my knowledge, nothing else has been planted (as of 4/29). The reason everything is late can be summed up in 3 words – rain, rain and rain. Here’s one indication about how much it’s rained – U.S. Corps of Engineers reservoirs are well above capacity and several thousand acres of that adjoining farmland will not be planted this year.

“There’s so much water that they will never be able to let it all out on time, and it could take much of the summer to draw it down. I haven’t seen anything like this since 1991. The water was higher in 1991 but I can’t remember anything like this year’s levels since then. One of my producers may have 600 acres that he won’t be able to farm this season.

“Cotton acres will go up, provided we can get it in the ground. Most guys have already put corn seed away and will shift to soybeans. But if they can find quality cotton seed, more will likely go to cotton instead of soybeans.”

Bob Griffin, Griffin Ag Consulting, Jonesboro, Arkansas:

“Probably 30% of my corn is up and I think we’re close to planting the last of it. Cotton is going in the ground some, although not everyone has started yet (as of 4/29). They will be, though, if it doesn’t rain much. The forecast does call for rain later this week.

“Where people are planting now, they’re hard at it. No cotton or soybean are up yet, which is very unusual here. Let me add that very few soybeans have been planted so far.

“There will be more cotton – not a lot necessarily, but maybe 10% to 20% more. That seemed to be the plan earlier and I think that still holds true. That said, prices did go down and that didn’t help the general outlook.

“Soybean acreage will be down after last year’s challenges – weather-related damage, low prices and all the weather delays at harvest. Corn, on the other hand, was going to be up a little, but people are running late. I do think that farmers can plant corn another 10 days without a yield loss but some people are now transitioning to cotton or beans.

“It’s hard to believe how much it’s rained. Since January 1, we’ve had 48 inchs of rain. Every 4 or 5 days it’s been raining 1 to 3 inches, sometimes more. The forecast calls for rain on Thursday and it says rain totals could range from 1 to 4 inches. If we get 4 inches on Thursday, a lot of land will go to something else.”

Trey Bullock, Bullock’s Ag Consulting, Hattiesburg, Mississippi:

“With all this rain, we’ve had a wild ride. We’ve done virtually nothing in the field, and growers just started planting today (4/29).

“This is the first time in 22 years that I’ve gone this long in the spring without digging behind a planter to make sure things are being done right. In fact, everything was pushed back so much that I’m still taking soil samples.

“Growers are mainly planting cotton right now because the bulk of the peanut seed hasn’t come in yet. A grower or two will have corn but not enough for me to be involved with it. The price has really kept people from being interested in corn. We’ll just about be 100% cotton and peanuts this year.

“One of my growers may plant some soybeans behind river water but he’d rather not. He was planning on cotton but doesn’t know if he’ll have enough time to plant it once the water recedes.”

Steve Schutz, Ind. Consultant, Coushatta, Louisiana:

“A few people in the area are still picking cotton (as of 4/29). None of my clients are still in that situation. My last one finished picking on April 1, and that field averaged 850 lbs/acre. I have no idea about its quality and there’s no telling what it would have picked if the farmer could have gotten in the field on time.

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“Since September, rain has been with us every week. One estimate is that 4,000 acres of cotton are still in the field, and some of that will still be picked. But there also were 10,000 to 12,000 acres of beans that were never harvested.

“And now, planting has been held up again by rain. Some growers did manage to plant all the corn they wanted and 70% of the stands are fair to good. But a whole lot needed to be replanted and a significant part of that will be abandoned and planted in beans.

“Some of our cotton has been planted, too, and it’s just cracking the ground. We’re not quite in a panic mode yet. Up until a May 10 planting date, there’s no potential yield loss. But with every delay now, we’re losing flexibility with cotton and nobody wants to fool with beans.

“We were going to have more cotton, anyway, and those acres were coming out of corn and soybeans. We’re still seeing a portion of our acreage moving away from corn simply due to wild hog damage. Some producers who regularly grew 1,000 acres of corn every year are now down to 300, all due to hogs.

“Where I have growers in Arkansas, they couldn’t plant corn and will end up planting cotton on those acres. It’s a tight situation for them because the closest gins aren’t taking on more growers. After that, the closest gin is 70 miles away.”

Darrin Dodds, Mississippi Cotton Specialist:

“Some folks started planting here and there last week, especially in the Delta. But then rain came through that Thursday and put a lot of planting on hold. A few growers started back on Sunday and then more on Monday.

“So, we’re still very much on the front end of this, with more rain in the forecast. I think people will continue running until lunch today (5/1) and then check the forecast and decide what to do.”

Dan Fromme, Louisiana Extension Cotton And Corn Specialist:

“Planting definitely kicked off this week and people are moving fast. Prior to this week, not much happened. In places, growers are finishing corn.

“We’re due to get rain, which probably will shut things down for a while. But on the positive side, temperatures are fantastic. Overall, we’ll have a lot more corn and a lot fewer beans this year.

“Cotton acres will be up, especially in the northern part of the state. I’m sensing plenty of optimism among farmers. With corn, a significant amount was planted in the last 2 weeks of March and the first week of April before rain hit again. Most of our corn is at least in the ground now.

“Where people are still planting corn, it’s in north Louisiana and these probably are cases where farmers have contracts. It was seriously wet in Louisiana from October to mid-March but it also was unreal how many acres of corn people planted in 14 to 17 days.”

Bill Robertson, Arkansas Extension Cotton Specialist:

“Cotton planting is under way but how much people have done varies widely from some who’ve yet to put the first seed in the ground to others who are at least halfway done.

“I’m working with one farmer in a variety trial and out of 1,000 acres of cotton the only thing he had left to plant today (5/1) was my trial. We’re further along in the southern part of the state. It’s been a little drier and warmer than in our central and northeastern counties, and some of those same areas are getting hammered by rain again.

“Even in southeast Arkansas where we finished that trial today, it was raining by noon. It wasn’t heavy and planters were still running, but rain has sure been the dominate feature of this planting season.

“Nothing was easy last year and this is largely a repeat. The wind has been blowing like crazy, too, which is complicating herbicide work. One guy had to stop planting and try to catch up on those treatments. People are putting in water furrows, too, because of the rain that’s coming. Herbicides deserve priority. We sure can’t get caught without them being in place before this rain starts.

“USDA’s planting estimate – based on the survey late last week – had us at 5% planted, which seemed about right since we hardly planted any cotton in April. However, a ton of people started planting last Saturday and covered more ground this week. With all that, though, I would seriously doubt that more than 20% has been planted yet. By comparison, USDA’s report for that same week in 2018 had us at 2% planted.”

Tyson Raper, Cotton And Small Grain Specialist, University of Tennessee:

“Most growers are running today (5/1), some faster than others. A front is coming through at the end of the week, although I don’t think we fully know yet how much it will rain or when it begins and ends. So, there’s an element of uncertainty.

“Some growers are holding back or are only planting up to a point. Others, though, are trying to get in as many acres as possible before the rain starts. One way or the other, we’re definitely planting cotton.

“There’s a lot of ‘noise’ out there about how many acres we’ll finally have. More people seem to think it will be up and a lot also say they’ll plant about what they did in 2018. Some, though, do expect to be down. So, it’s still a fluid situation.

“Based on experience, when we have a good cotton planting window we tend to end up with a little more cotton than expected. I suspect we may be up a little compared to last year but I don’t believe we’ll go above 375,000 acres.

“There are concerns about seed quality and I hope we don’t stress these seedlings too much. Fortunately, we do have this good planting window.

“We tend to plant enough seed and typically only need one to two plants per foot to make a profitable crop. If you’re seeding at 3.5 seed per foot, we should be able to achieve adequate stands and profitable yields, even with some marginal seed quality. It hasn’t been a very cool, wet planting window up to this point, which is a positive. We should be okay if warmer conditions continue and moisture is adequate but not excessive.”

Ashley Peters, Peters Crop Consulting, Crowville, Louisiana:

“We’re planting everything everywhere, it seems. I probably have some guys who haven’t begun planting cotton yet and others who’ve just started. On the other hand, some are pretty far along. One grower said today (5/1) that he’s 75% done.

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“So, this planting season will be significantly staggered out. Some growers are still trying to wrap up fertilizer and herbicide applications in corn, plant soybeans and plant rice. Cotton will be the last thing for them.

“Cotton acres have exploded around here. Over the last few years, any number of growers were reluctant to get back into the crop but they’re into it now. One guy said a few years ago that he’d retire before he ever grew cotton again. This year, he’ll have cotton.

“Overall, my cotton acres are up. Ginning capacity will be stretched thin. Gins are telling some growers that if they plant more than they’re allotted, they won’t be able to gin it. Even with that, people are telling me every day that they will either have more cotton this year or that they’ll plant it for the first time in several years.

“Our bean acres are drastically down with growers moving that ground to cotton or rice. At least right now, I don’t think we’ll see them swap back to beans.

“You might say that ‘soybeans’ is a four-letter word here. If growers have the infrastructure to grow cotton or rice, that’s the direction they’re heading.”

Scott Gifford, Gifford Crop Consulting, Manila, Arkansas:

“Maybe 3 or 4 cotton fields have been planted. With that last cool snap, growers were holding off on planting and were aiming toward the middle of this week. But then scattered rain started this morning (5/1), from a quarter of an inch to an inch.

“It also looks like rain will be with us through this week and into early next week, so it could be a week before we can get going again. I see a few planters going now but that’s about it.

“How much cotton we finally have will be driven by the weather. Growers will stay with their plans for cotton until about May 20. After that, they’ll decide whether to continue with it or shift to soybeans.

“I’ve hardly got any corn this year and about half of that was replanted. Probably 10% of my soybeans have been planted. We’re seeing some rice acres going to beans. This has been a frustrating start. We’ll catch a couple of days when it’s dry enough to be in the field, then it rains again.”

AgFax Midsouth Cotton is published by AgFax Media LLC
Owen Taylor, Editorial Director.
 
Working-Copy%5B1%5D.jpgThis weekly report is distributed during the cotton production season. It is available to United States residents engaged in cotton farming, field scouting and other qualifying ag professions. Mailing address: 142 Westlake Drive, Brandon, MS 39047. Office: 601-992-9488.
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