“Last fall a lot of people, me included, made the decision to cut back on cotton and replace it with a wheat-soybean double-crop. At that time, cotton prices were in the mid-60s, wheat was $7.50 a bushel and soybeans pushing $15 per bushel.

 

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“To make those crops work in place of cotton, we had to go to a double-crop, and we had to make that decision in the fall, not at spring planting time,” Murphy says.

“Fortunately, cotton prices have rebounded some, and that’s good, because we’re still in the cotton business. We’re partners in a gin and we still plant about 1,000 acres of cotton, but you can’t overlook the realities of economics,” the North Carolina grower says.

Whether more growers will look at the recent recovery of cotton prices and plant a few more acres than forecast in the USDA Planting Intentions Survey isn’t clear.

David Parrish, CEO of the North Carolina Cotton Growers Association says from what he has learned from growers across the state, acreage is likely to stay at about the forecast levels for 2013.

Prices continue to recover some, but Parrish says cool, damp weather kept many growers out of the field during prime cotton planting time in the state. Most growers couldn’t take the chance of planting cotton past the insurance cutoff date for North Carolina, which is May 15, he adds.

"At this point I think we planted what we were anticipating to get planted. The cool damp weather was not good for cotton planting weather. One good thing is that we were anticipating a pull back from last year’s acres, and it looks like we will be able to get in the number of acres we were expecting,” Parrish says.

For many years, cotton and peanuts were the dominant crops in Murphy’s farming operation. Ironically, an unexpected buying frenzy by Chinese buyers helped bolster what appeared back in the winter to be a dismal outlook for peanuts. 

Whether Chinese buyers influenced U.S. shellers to offer more lucrative contracts is not certain, but the improved outlook for peanut prices, despite a large domestic over-supply, did give North Carolina growers some flexibility in cropping decisions at planting time this year.

One factor for Murhpy to switch more heavily to grain crops was the availability of poultry litter for fertilizer. His family’s farming operation includes three large poultry houses, which can supply a portion of the fertilizer needed for his grain crops.