Georgia and Mississippi traditionally rank second and third in cotton acreage behind Texas. In 2000, Georgia claimed the No. 2 spot with 1.5 million acres to Mississippi’s 1.3 million. That was reversed in 2001 when Mississippi planted 1.62 million acres to Georgia’s 1.49 million.
But since the 2006 season, it hasn’t been close. Mississippi, according to USDA, will plant 420,000 acres in cotton this year, about one-third of what it planted in 2006. And while Georgia’s cotton acreage has dropped off substantially, it still tops the one-million mark. USDA says Georgia growers will plant 1.05 million acres this year.
Skyrocketing soybean and corn prices are responsible for the drop in Mississippi cotton acreage, so the logical question becomes: Why hasn’t Georgia followed suit on that large of a scale?
“We don’t have quite the ability and comparative advantage to shift acreage to other crops,” says Dr. Don Shurley, Georgia Extension Economist – Cotton. “We’ve seen some shifts to corn and soybeans to be sure, but I don’t think those crops represent the (economic) alternative to cotton that they do in other parts of the country. Even though we have increased acreage in those crops, they don’t offer quite the profitable alternative for us.”
Another reason is the net return on peanuts that Georgia, as the leading peanut-producing state in the nation, enjoys. Peanut growers tend to shy away from soybeans because they share common diseases. “Soybeans do not fit very well into a rotation with peanuts,” Shurley continues. “That has to be taken into account.”
Another incentive to plant cotton is that the state’s sandier soils do not hold moisture well enough to make corn less of a gamble than cotton.
“We don’t have much irrigation and cotton is drought tolerant – more than beans and corn,” says Tab Bustle, who farms with his brother Brian near Coolidge, GA. “You have to pour the water on corn especially.”
Shurley agrees, saying, “Our experience in Georgia is that cotton tends to be more drought tolerant. With our long growing season, if late season weather cooperates we can come out of a drought and still make a good crop.”
Time Out for Trivia
Here’s a trivia question: Which is farther west, Los Angeles or Reno, NV? You might be surprised if you look at a map. Would you be equally surprised to find that Sylvester, GA, is just about on the same latitude as Alexandria, LA, where the Louisiana Extension Service has its southernmost cotton research station?
The point is that south Georgia has as long a growing season as in the Mid-South and Southeast, which is why today’s varieties allow the state’s growers to spread out planting dates. And the longer season makes it possible for growers who substantially increased wheat acreage to double-crop behind the wheat with cotton.
“We haven’t had any wheat in 20 years, but we planted some (in 2007) and we’ll follow it with cotton,” says Ken Hall of Shingler, GA.
In the 80s and 90s, grain prices were depressed relative to cotton, and a tradition that started for Hall during that time continues. “Cotton was where the money was,” he says. “We used to be much more diversified – corn, wheat, beans – but we phased that out because with cotton we can net more.
“Cotton has been good to us and we will plant 300 acres more this year,” he continues. “We had some good irrigated land become available to us to lease and we’re putting cotton on it.”
This year Hall will have 1,500 acres of cotton and 1,100 acres of peanuts, and he takes advantage of the rotational options by going with two years in cotton and one year in peanuts. “That helps peanut yields anywhere from 300 to 500 pounds,” he says.
The Bustles will have 1,250 acres of cotton, 700 acres of soybeans, 500 acres of peanuts and 400 acres of corn.
According to USDA, Delta and Pine Land’s DP 555 BR had a 58.45% market share in the Southeast in 2007, and an almost unbelievable 83.59% share in Georgia. DP 555 is a full-season variety, a great yielder and one of Hall’s favorites.
But this year – especially behind his wheat – he will begin looking at shorter season varieties. “Some of these varieties will allow us to plant later,” he says. “Because of droughts, we’ve planted as late as the 10th of June. I don’t like to be that late, but the varieties we have will allow us to plant up to mid June.”
Other varieties he will plant this year will include Dow AgroScience’s PhytoGen PHY 370 WR and PHY 480 WR and Bayer CropScience’s FiberMax FM 1735LLB2 and FM 960 B2R.
The PhytoGen varieties are Roundup Ready stacked with the WideStrike insect-protection trait. FM 1735 is stacked with the Liberty Link trait and Bollgard II. FM 960 B2R is a Bollgard II/Roundup Ready variety.
WideStrike, like Bollgard II, has two Bt genes. WideStrike expresses the Cry1F and Cry1Ac proteins of Bacillus thuringiensis. Bollgard II also expresses the Cry1Ac protein, but the second is Cry2Ab. What you are getting from the differences is another transgenic option to fit different situations.
The Liberty Link glufosinate-tolerant trait allows growers to use Bayer’s non-selective Ignite herbicide. Ignite has an entirely different mode of action than glyphosate, making an effective alternative glyphosate-resistant marestail and pigweed are problems.
“Last year was our first experience with WideStrike and it really did a good job,” says Hall. “We planted just enough to look at it, and we’ll increase our acreage this year. We see it as a compliment to Bollgard.”
And like Bollgard II, WideStrike varieties can be used with natural refuges. “If you compare WideStrike to the single-gene Bollgard trait, WideStrike is going to give you improved corn earworm control,” says Dr. Steve Brown, Dow’s Cotton Development Specialist. “All of the technologies will give near perfect control of tobacco budworm. WideStrike provides superior control of fall armyworms over Bollgard II; Bollgard II may be a little better on corn earworms, but both are improvements over single-gene Bt.”
Also, in addition to DP 555, the Bustles have planted PhytoGen 485 WRF, a WideStrike/Roundup Ready Flex variety, and this will be their second year to plant it.
“We like Flex, and our consultant Mark Murphy tells us that we always have to be careful with insect protection in our late-planted cotton,” says Brian Bustle. “We have insects that will move out of the cotton that has started to mature and into younger cotton. They’ll tear it up, and we’ve had a hard time in the past. WideStrike gives us another option.”
As with most areas of the Southeast and Mid-South, thrips are the first pest concern. To fight them, the Bustles use four pounds of Temik per acre. “After that we have to watch plant bugs pretty hard. Generally it’s rare that we have to spray for them in this area, but it’s not unheard of,” says Murphy. “Then we have to deal with stink bugs, especially into early bloom.”
Caption (2 photos):
Tab (left) and Brian Bustle
Cotton Acreage (in thousands of acres)