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USDA Report Reveals Growers' Intentions
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi cotton growers are expected to plant less than 1 million acres for the second consecutive year -- a trend that could hurt cotton's support industries in the state.
"We have significant concerns about cotton's infrastructure as acres are converted to crops that generate less economic activity," said Dr. O.A. Cleveland, agricultural economist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service. "Cotton is a high cost crop with a large support industry surrounding it."
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 had governmental incentive to reduce acres in 1983 due to abundant supplies.
Market prices and production costs have chipped away at Mississippi cotton acres. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's recently released planting intentions reports predicts Mississippians will plant 860,000 acres, down from 985,000 planted acres in 1997.
"The Mid-South region has the highest costs to produce cotton. Mississippi needs 3 to 5 cents per pound more than states east of us that have eradicated the boll weevil," Cleveland said.
As growers look at the market, Cleveland said they begrudgingly listen to what it says.
"Cotton growers don't want to plant other crops, but if the price comparisons with other crops indicate a need, they will plant an alternative crop," he said. "If the price of corn is three times the price of cotton, growers switch to corn. If soybeans are 10 times the price of cotton, they switch to beans."
Choosing alternative crops hurts many of agriculture's support industries.
"The out-of-pocket cost for corn is about $150 per acre, but is $425 for cotton," Cleveland said. "The individual farmer is better off with other crops, but not the chemical dealers, ginners, consultants or even main street businesses."
Cleveland said Mississippi cotton growers, especially in the Delta, are switching to corn. USDA's planting intentions report predicts a slight increase in corn and soybean acreage nationally, but that slight increase follows 1997's large acreage for both crops.
Dr. Tom Jones, Extension agricultural economist at MSU, said the report indicates Mississippi corn growers will plant 580,000 acres, up 18 percent from last year.
"Some of those acres may slide over to beans if growers can't get the corn planted soon," Jones said. "Bean prices are expected to decline in the wake of a record harvest in Brazil and rail problems in the United States."