Virginia cotton growers optimistic about yields

The USDA is predicting this year’s Virginia cotton crop will be 90 percent larger than in 2016, and yields are expected to average 432 pounds per acre more than last year’s.

usdaOne reason the forecast is dramatically higher is that Virginia growers planted an additional 9,000 acres of cotton this year. But the increased acreage is coming at a time when prices are not very strong.

“Some growers just figured, ‘We’ll gamble with the cotton’ this year,” remarked M.L. Everett Jr., chairman of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Cotton Advisory Committee. “We had low corn prices this year, we were expecting a pretty large production of soybeans and lower prices for them as well. So the market wasn’t asking for more cotton; it was just the best alternative. And cotton is more drought-resistant than corn.”

Everett said his family farm operation did not expand cotton acreage this year. “But we’re looking at higher yields. We’d like to see cotton prices up to 75 cents per pound; that would be good. Right now they’re fluctuating between 56 cents and 74 cents a pound,” he noted.

Last year’s smaller cotton crop was a disappointment for Virginia growers, and that’s why cotton farmers are hoping the crop forecast holds, since “pretty good production would help compensate for lower yields.”

Unlike other Virginia field crops, cotton harvest doesn’t start until late October, so there’s still time for weather problems to reduce the quality or total production. Last year a dry summer led into an extremely wet fall, which negatively affected crop yields and the ability of growers to get into the fields, said Tony Banks, a VFBF commodity marketing specialist.

“Obviously Hurricane Harvey damaged a considerable amount of cotton in Texas and Louisiana as well as parts of Oklahoma and Arkansas. But producers won’t see a big bump in prices this year” because the world supply of cotton is still quite strong. And the U.S. cotton crop is on track to be the third-largest on record at 21.8 million bales, Banks said.

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