USA:Cotton dethroned as king crop of the South, corn and soybeans rise to take its place

Huntsville, Alabama -For centuries, cotton has been the iconic crop of the Deep South,  reported “Kazakh-Zerno” IA with reference to the “Alabama Live“.

Historically, it was even used as an economic safeguard and diplomatic tool in the Civil War. 

But the uncertainty of its future and the lure of other profitable crops is slowly causing “King Cotton” to relinquish its throne to a new monarchy of crops.

Grains and oil seeds. 

In 2006 farmers in Limestone County – one of the state’s top cotton producers – planted a combined total of 68,016.3 acres of cotton. In 2010, they only devoted 17,283 acres to cotton farming.

For Madison County, farmers in 2006 planted 54,174.7 acres of cotton which fell to 27,824 acres in 2010.

Meanwhile, acreage for corn and soybeans has skyrocketed in the area due to their record-breaking prices, said Shane Seay, Limestone’s executive director of the Farm Service Agency for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Farmers had to adapt when the price of cotton per pound fell, because the price they are getting for the product is not going up, but the price of input is,” he said. “The price of input to farm cotton is around $275 to $325 per acre.

“At 50 cents per pound of cotton, you better make 650 pounds of cotton just to make even.”

According to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group, September’s estimate for a bushel of corn is $3.70, soybeans for August are $10.18 per bushel, and cotton for December delivery is about 75 cents a pound. 

Steve Tate, co-owner of Tate Farms in Meridianville, said he and his family have farmed cotton since 1870 in Alabama, but the atmosphere has changed for many farmers in the Tennessee Valley because of the grains market. 

“Cotton price is relatively low; it’s a high-input crop. Durable goods are down and demand for cotton is soft,” said Tate, who has 2,800 acres of cotton, about 850 acres of corn and 1,100 acres of soybeans. “Corn and soybeans are traded every day because the main market is driven by oil, protein and other niche markets that have an impact on the price.

“But the cotton man will be king and it will continue being a player, because it’s uniquely suited to be grown here.” 

Monrovia-based Vaughan Farms, owned by Rex Vaughan, devotes 1,500 acres to cotton and a few hundred acres to soybeans.

As a longtime farmer, Vaughan sticks to cotton farming because “it’s still my favorite crop to grow, beyond a doubt.” “Unlike farming equipment for grains, cotton equipment is only suited for that one particular crop,” he said. 

“Some farmers have found it worthwhile to purchase grain equipment and move in that direction, but by doing so they have abandoned cotton and cotton equipment.”

Vaughan said between fertilizer cost and seed-technology fees, the primary costs associated with cotton production, it makes it extremely difficult for the crop to be profitable. Many cotton producer veterans, he also said, are not in the cotton business any more because of the going price per pound.

“They will not get back in it unless it hits the $1 mark, because they don’t see the profitability there,” Vaughan said.

“It’s just a sign of the times.”

Acreage statistics for local farmers from 2006 to 2010

Madison County

2006 – Cotton, 54,174.7 acres; corn, 8,733.5 acres; soybeans, 18,217.3 acres
2007 – Cotton, 35,890.6 acres; corn, 22,229.8 acres; soybeans, 21,720 acres
2008 – Cotton, 25,990 acres; corn, 17,089 acres; soybeans, 38,060 acres
2009 – Cotton, 19,327.4 acres; corn, 19,066.8; soybeans, 45,375.9 acres
2010 – Cotton, 27,824 acres; corn, 21,149; soybeans, 32,628 acres

Limestone County

2006 – Cotton, 68,016.3 acres; corn, 66,052.6 acres; soybeans, 17,306.4 acres
2007 – Cotton, 42,204.8 acres; corn, 21,337.2 acres; soybeans, 28,281.5 acres
2008 – Cotton, 13,927.6 acres; corn, 17,728.3 acres; soybeans, 57,944.5 acres
2009 – Cotton, 11,250.3 acres; corn, 21,182.2 acres; soybeans, 62,722.3 acres
2010 – Cotton, 27,824 acres; corn, 21,149 acres; soybeans, 32,628 acres

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