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Growers Gamble on 1996 Cotton
STARKVILLE -- So far so good. Cotton growers are "cautiously optimistic" that this year will not bring weather and insect traumas reminiscent of 1995.
A cold, boll weevil killing winter, budworm resistant cotton and a decent planting season are some of the positive factors going for this year's crop. But bad memories of 1995's insect battles and hopes for cashing in on corn and soybean's high prices in 1996 are driving many growers away from cotton.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's planting intentions report predicted Mississippi growers to plant about 1.2 million acres of cotton, about 18 percent fewer than in 1995. Most of those acres are going into corn.
Dr. Will McCarty, extension cotton specialist at Mississippi State University, said cotton's profit margin has been shrinking in recent years as insect control costs climb.
"Farmers are asking which crops they will lose the least money producing or which crops carry the least risk," McCarty said. "The costs of planting and producing corn and soybeans are significantly lower than cotton."
However, the specialist said no crop will pay cotton overhead except cotton, and growers need to be cautious how they allocate expenses. In addition to skyrocketing production costs for cotton, the cotton specialist said growers are being lured to corn and soybeans with the new freedom to plant without jeopardizing their cotton base acreage.
Many farmers want to practice some form of crop rotation without risk of being out of compliance with government programs.
Extension entomologist Blake Layton echoed concerns about insect control costs, and specifically, last year's tobacco budworms' impact on 1996 planting intentions.
"The budworm problem had a major role in the acreage reduction in the hill area, but you also see fewer cotton acres in parts of the Delta that didn't lose a lot to budworms, but had high control costs," Layton said.
The entomologist said some growers are opting for cotton that is resistant to bollworms and tobacco budworms, known as Bt cotton. However, use of Bt cotton will not eliminate insect concerns. Farmers will continue to watch for plant bugs, thrips, aphids, and late season armyworms and boll weevils.
"The profit margin is so narrow now in states that haven't eradicated boll weevils that growers must watch production costs even more closely," Layton said.
Expected low boll weevil numbers also will help keep budworm numbers down. Layton said fewer insecticide applications will protect beneficial insects that help control budworms.
McCarty said Mississippi's cotton has benefitted from slightly delayed plantings. Most of the crop was planted in the first 10 days of May and grew quickly -- thus reducing risk of disease on weak plants.
"If conditions remain favorable, there will be very little replanting this year," McCarty said.