Most agree this may be the year when growers’ planting intentions really don’t count for much, as uncertainties abound regarding which crops will be the best choice for 2009.

“It’s interesting that we used to buy seed in December because we wanted discounts, and many of our growers didn’t know which seeds to buy this year — cotton, soybeans or corn,” says Dale Monks, Auburn University Extension cotton specialist. “I’ve talked with producers, Extension people and others about what will be planted this year, and this is probably the most uncertain I’ve seen it.”

That uncertainty spreads across much of the U.S. Cotton Belt, says Monks, with a few exceptions. “Virginia doesn’t grow much cotton, maybe 60,000 acres, and Missouri and Arkansas seem to be fairly stable. When you go out West where the long-staple cotton is grown, in California and Arizona, their acreage also seems to be fairly stable. Most other states will see a downturn in acreage — that’s a foregone conclusion. After all is said and done, the big question is by how much the acreage will be down,” he says.

In Alabama last year, producers planted about 290,000 acres of cotton. About three years ago, they planted about 540,000 acres. “We’re at about half of what we were planting just a few years ago. Yield-wise, we had a tremendous season last year. Tropical Storm Fay came through late and we were dry in some areas. In some areas of the state — especially in central Alabama — some growers saw their third straight year of drought. However, across the entire state, we came in at the 840 pounds per-acre range. The good weather later in the season helped us to hold onto that top crop,” says Monks.

Some growers thought in late August they wouldn’t make a bale, he says, but they picked anywhere from 700 to 1,000 pounds per acre. “It was the late crop on top of the plant that was able to hold and mature on out. I just wasn’t sure if we’d have enough time. As soon as we underestimate what cotton can do, we’ve seen over the years it can come back given the right kind of weather,” says Monks.

Due to cotton input costs and other factors, many Alabama growers are taking cotton out of their marginal areas and planting only on their better land, he says.

“We’re probably looking at increases in corn acreage in some areas. In north Alabama, where three or four years ago we were planting 250,000 acres of cotton, we could very well be down to 40,000 to 50,000 acres of cotton this year if not less. We’ll have a lot more soybeans in the state this year, given the price. Growers also are waiting to see what peanut prices might do,” he says.

Monks believes Alabama producers will plant about 250,000 acres of cotton this year. “We could be as high as 300,000 acres or as low as 200,000 acres. I’m saying we’ll be at 250,000 give or take 30 percent,” he says.

Reviewing the cotton variety availability for 2009, Monks says he expects a good supply of most seed due to the indecision about which crops to plant. Just to mention a few that might be of interest, Phytogen has 440W. “The central part of Alabama is unique in that there is still interest by some growers in conventional cotton varieties. Phytogen 440W has WideStrike insect-resistance technology for growers who might be interested in getting away from the technology fees that come with herbicide-resistant varieties. This is the only conventional cotton that offers insect resistance.”

Phytogen will be testing a full-season cotton this year, he adds. “There’s a big rush by all companies to get to market with the best replacement for D&PL 555, so Phytogen will be testing one of these varieties. Their 300-numbered varieties are the earliest maturing, the 400 are the early to mid-maturing, and the 500 that will be coming out will be more of a mid- to full-season variety,” he says.

For central and south Alabama, the WideStrike fee is $95 per bag and less expensive as you go north, says Monks.

D&PL will have a new numbering system beginning this year, he says, where the first two numbers will be the year of release and the last two numbers will indicate the maturity. “The 12, 20 and 24 would be the early varieties — the larger the second number, the later it is. DP 0935 will be a mid- to late-variety and DP 0949 will be mid- to full-season. Everything appears to be in good supply except for DP 0949 which will be in more of an introductory phase.”

From Bayer, Stoneville 4554 remains a popular variety among growers, says Monks.

Growers interested in conventional cotton could look at varieties from Bronco such as CT-210, he says. “We’ve had a little bit of experience with CT-210 in our test plots, and it has done a nice job.”

e-mail: phollis@farmpress.com