Cotton acreage has rebounded in Alabama in recent years, but it’s anyone’s guess as to where it may go this year, especially considering the competition from other crops such as corn, soybeans and peanuts.

Looking at current commodity prices, the state’s farmers have some difficult decisions to make, says Dale Monks, Auburn University Extension cotton agronomist.

“We had about 200,000 acres in 2009, 350,000 acres in 2010, and 460,000 last year, but I don’t have a good number for this year. My opinion has been that it’ll go up, but I’m not certain,” he says.

The state yield was 762 pounds per acre in 2011. “Basically, this tells me we had some tremendous yields out there, but we also had areas that suffered through severe drought. Anytime Alabama’s average yield gets over 700 pounds per acre, that means we have some tremendous cotton out there,” says Monks.

Staple, micronaire, strength and uniformity looked good, for the most part in 2011, he says.

“If you look at our cotton compared to some other states, our mic was in a better range than some.”

Whether or not growers were located in the path of rainfall patterns meant all the difference last year, says Monks. “Rainfall patterns really were the make-it or break-it for the crop last year. There were about three big storms that came through in late July or early August. That band of showers, from east to west, is what made the crop in central Alabama. If you were just outside those bands, your crop might have been half of the ones inside the bands.”

With dry conditions in the state last year, it was a late crop from the beginning, he adds.

“But because of the heat and dry weather during the summer, the maturity rate increased, and the crop caught up with itself by the end of the season. Some growers in Alabama made as good a crop as they’ve made in years, while others made very poor yields.”

It’s expected that growers will be comparing commodity prices up until planting time.

“Will prices continue to hold up, and how will it compare to other crop choices?” asks Monks.

“Corn and soybeans are competing with cotton in north Alabama’s Tennessee Valley. With peanuts, we’re not really into crop rotations in some areas — six years in and one year out isn’t a rotation. We’re just hoping that something bad doesn’t happen next year in peanuts. We’ve seen some good prices on peanuts, to the point to where they were competing with other crops.”

As far as cotton variety selection, growers need to look at all the data, including OVT’s, on-farm data, and information from the various companies. Local and regional experience with a variety also should be a guide, says Monks.