By BECKY GILLETTE
Cotton is making a comeback in Mississippi. With prices of major commodities like soybeans and corn at levels that are making it a challenge to be profitable, ag experts to see an increase in cotton acreage planted in Mississippi this year.
“The outlook for the 2016-2017 crop is we are going to a fairly considerable increase in cotton acres,” said Larry Falconer, Ph.D., an extension professor with the Delta Research and Extension Center. “Cotton prices have rebounded. With cotton futures in mid-70s per pound range for the new crop, it looks like the margins for cotton production are much better than they have been in the past two or three years.”
This will be the third year in a row for lower commodity prices. Falconer said cotton was one of the first crops to get into price trouble. And it looks like it might be one of the first to recover.
“Hopefully, it will continue to do hang in there at these levels or a little higher,” Falconer said.
In 2015, there were only 320,000 acres of cotton planted in Mississippi, one of the lowest amounts historically. In 2016, cotton acres planted went up to 450,000 acres. Falconer says there are predictions of 600,000 to 700,000 acres on the high end this year, depending on conditions and the weather.
Cotton requires more infrastructure, like cotton gins, than some other crops. That means it can have a greater impact on the local economy. But as cotton acreage has shrunk, so has its infrastructure. Falconer said the lack of infrastructure will limit the upside on cotton acres.
The state could see a sharp reduction in corn and rice acres.
“Rice prices are off sharply and margins don’t look that good,” Falconer said. “Corn prices are lower than this past year. Soybeans prices are actually a little better than last year, but still not level given average yields. But prices are better than we probably thought last year.”
Brian Williams, Ph.D, assistant extension professor, Mississippi State University, said the biggest crop planted in Mississippi is soybeans. He anticipates seeing more soybean acres planted in 2017 in Mississippi and across the country.
“That being said, the outlook still isn’t the greatest as far as the markets,” Williams said. “I think we will probably see prices a little lower this year than what they were a year ago. Given the tight margins, the cost of production of soybeans makes it a challenge.”
He doesn’t see a whole lot of upside in corn, but is hopeful that fewer acres being planted in Mississippi and nationally will help prices a little bit.
The present farm bill that provides a safety net for agricultural producers was adopted at a time of high commodity prices. Work is starting on a new farm bill.
“They are thinking about it already,” Williams said. “There is a lot of pressure, more than in past years, to get this farm bill through as early as they can. I think part of that is pure politics. When you look at the makeup of the Senate, especially, there are several Democrats from swing states who are up for re-election in 2018. From what I have heard, they would like to get the farm bill off of their plate before re-election.”
Williams said farm groups are also putting pressure on legislators to get it done as soon as they can just because of the low-price environment and the tight margins compared to where producers where with higher prices when the present farm bill was adopted. He said the sooner a farm bill is adopted, the better producers will fare in getting more money into the commodity programs.
Agriculture is the number one industry in Mississippi with sales of about $6.2 billion a year and employment of about 30 percent of the workforce. How ag fares affects the state overall. Williams said ag is going to continue to be a huge part of the state’s economy.
“But at the producer level, things are probably going to be pretty tight again this year,” he said. “Producers are going to have to be really careful with their spending and watching their crops. It is tough time for producers.”