UNRAVELING THE COTTON INDUSTRY
TWO COTTON INPUT SUPPLY MARKETERS DISCUSS THE STATE OF THE COTTON INDUSTRY
Last year was a mixed bag for cotton producers, as some areas of the Cotton Belt had great crops and others had disappointing yields. But technology such as Bollgard cotton and hopes for improved commodity prices - or at least a boost in government payments - keep cotton producers planting the crop they take so much pride in growing.
Below, marketers from two major cotton input suppliers discuss the state of the cotton industry and what’s in store for the year ahead. Jim Willeke is vice president of sales and marketing for Delta and Pine Land Co., a seed company based in Scott, Miss.´Dave Rhylander is director of marketing for Monsanto Co.’s southern region and is based in Memphis.
AM: How did cotton farmers fare last year and what is the outlook for the coming growing season?
Rhylander: About the only place where cotton yields were close to what producers wanted was in North Carolina. In west Texas, the crop got off to a good start, but then it became hot and dry and producers felt pressure from insects. It cost them a lot of money to combat beet army worms.
There is potential this year for more cotton acreage in some areas because of low commodity prices in other crops. In some areas, cotton will be the only choice. In other areas, like the Delta and Southeast, growers will have several options to consider - depending on commodity prices.
Willeke: North Carolina cotton farmers had one of the best crops in recent memory, while producers in south Georgia, southern South Carolina and parts of Texas had one of the most disappointing crops in years. Lack of rainfall and excessive heat played a major role in yield reductions to the point that some fields weren’t even harvested.
For this growing season, with relatively bearish prices on soybeans and corn, U.S. cotton acreage will increase modestly from last year.
AM: How are cotton farming practices changing?
Rhylander: There are huge shifts to conservation tillage in cotton as a means to save money on labor, equipment and the overall cost of production. As farmers consolidate and get larger, biotechnology allows them to plant more acreage but still use the same amount of equipment and labor, as well as manage weeds without plows and cultivators.
What’s more, using Bollgard with Roundup Ready stacked-gene cotton varieties can further reduce the number of trips growers need to make across their fields to apply insecticides and herbicides. This powerful combination gives growers both improved weed and insect control in the same variety. The addition of the Bollgard gene to Roundup Ready cotton gives growers good control of tobacco budworm and bollworm, reduced insecticide application and the potential for higher yields.
Willeke: We’re seeing a move from Virginia to California toward reduced or minimum tillage because of the availability of Roundup Ready technology. In areas where eradication is taking place, there’s an expanded interest in Bollgard cotton varieties that are stacked with the Roundup Ready gene. Bollgard reduces overall losses to worms by providing around-the-clock protection, especially from sub-threshold feeding that occurs before and between insecticide applications.
Delta and Pine Land has led the introduction of Bollgard and Roundup Ready stacked products. We’re expanding their availability through additional varieties that will have various technologies incorporated into them.
AM: What is the crop consultant’s role in cotton production?
Rhylander: Crop consultants have expanded their role and have begun providing advice about varietal selection and weed control in addition to monitoring for insects. Biotechnology has resulted in the need for them to provide input on more issues involving the crop. They still have to manage the insect-control side, but now they determine if a variety with a particular trait works on a farm. As a result, today’s crop consultants manage more input costs for farmers.
Willeke: Because the average base for many cotton farmers is large, consultants play a significant role. They definitely have a hand in input selection. To reach them, we allow them to access our performance database on the Internet. We hold consultant meetings where we bring them to our headquarters or meet with them in their home state so we can share information on product performance. We also produce CropWatch, a technical newsletter for consultants and their customers.
AM: What makes cotton growers different from producers of other crops?
Rhylander: Cotton is a highly managed crop. Growers get cotton in the ground, scout it, continually use weed and insect control measures, and determine whether growth regulators are needed. Once they get into August, growers have to determine what harvest aids are necessary. Yields and quality can be impacted by bad weather at harvest.
Willeke: Cotton is an intensively managed, high-input crop. The inputs are more significant and the necessity to be successful is elevated. A producer will consider every avenue of information and technology so he maximizes his opportunities. AM