Virginia cotton production hit more wrinkles in 2016

virginiaCorn and soybean producers in Virginia managed to have a good year in 2016 despite weather challenges, but cotton growers saw their yields plummet as heavy rain ended the growing season.

“Our planting was delayed about three weeks later than we’d like by rain, so we started behind,” said Shelley Barlow, a Southampton County cotton grower and member of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Cotton Advisory Committee. “We had adequate moisture up until the end of July, then the water cut off in the month of August. Then we turned around and had a wet September, and then we had the remnants of a hurricane.”

Virginia cotton production is estimated to be 100,000 bales for 2016, according to a Jan. 12 report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service. That’s 30 percent lower than in 2015, another poor year for cotton growers. Yields averaged 667 pounds an acre last year, well below what would be considered a good crop.

U.S. cotton production was up 32 percent from 2015 at 17 million bales. Each bale weighs 480 pounds.

“We had individual fields that had respectable yields, more than a thousand pounds an acre, but we also had fields with only 300 pounds an acre,” Barlow said. “The 2015 cotton crop was also short, but we also had quality issues. At least in 2016 we had good-quality cotton.”

Virginia corn and soybean growers also struggled with a wet spring but managed to raise respectable crops, noted Robert Harper, VFBF’s grain marketing manager.

Virginia corn production was estimated at 50.3 million bushels, a 4 percent increase from 2015. Corn yields averaged 148 bushels an acre, 13 bushels less than the previous year. Soybean production was estimated at 21.6 million bushels, up 1 percent from the year before, while soybean yields averaged 36 bushels an acre, up 1.5 bushels from 2015. Corn for grain was at 340,000 acres in Virginia, up 40,000 acres, while soybean acreage was 600,000, down 20,000 acres from the previous year.

“Both the national corn and soybean crops were all-time records for yield and production,” Harper said. “That wasn’t true for Virginia growers, but they still had good crops, thanks to modern equipment and seed genetics.”

The record national harvest does have a negative side effect. Harper noted that grain prices have been in a slump since the middle of 2014, and the most recent big crop won’t help boost them.

“We’ve definitely seen some price recovery since then due to strong market demand, but grain and bean prices are expected to remain relatively low this year. We’ve seen a little more recovery in soybean prices than corn and certainly more than in the wheat market.”

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