Cotton can be a temperamental king of crops, abdicating the throne whenever there’s a gyration in the market.

So now that it’s back on top, is there enough ginning capacity in the South to handle the anticipated wall-to-wall plantings?

In Alabama, cotton acres are projected to increase this year by 21 percent from 2010, to 410,000 acres; in Georgia, growers intend to plant 1,450,000 acres in 2011, up 9 percent from last year. And in the Florida Panhandle, cotton acreage is pegged at 100,000 this year, up 8,000 acres or 9 percent over 2010.

Cotton acreage increases are expected in every state, for a total of 12.6 million acres, 15 percent above last year. The largest increase, at 548,000 acres, is expected in Texas. Acreage increases of more than 100,000 acres are expected in North Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi.

University of Georgia Extension Economist Don Shurley expects there will be ample ginning capacity in his state.

“If there is any shortage in ginning capacity this year, it might apply more to the Mid-South. But there shouldn’t be a problem in Georgia,” says Shurley. “Some of our gins may or may not be operating at capacity. But there’s no doubt the infrastructure is still in place in Georgia to handle the acreage increases this year.”

Gin numbers in Georgia have held fairly steady in recent years, at about 58 to 60, he says. “We might have had one or two closings, with one of the gin companies closing one of two locations. There definitely had been a downward trend in cotton acreage since 2005-2006, and I think the USDA planting intentions for this year may be on the low side. But our ginners should be able to handle whatever the final number might be,” says Shurley.

In north Alabama’s cotton-rich Tennessee Valley, the problem this year might be getting the cotton crop planted rather than getting it all ginned, says Auburn University Extension agronomist Charles Burmester. Growers in the region have seen a very wet and windy early spring, and they’re running behind in their planting.

“On average, farmers are getting into their fields only a couple of days a week. In the eastern part of the Valley, very little corn has been planted and some of those growers might opt to plant cotton instead. But we’ll have enough gins to take care of it if we can get it all planted,” he says.