It’s not an honor North Carolina cotton growers will find particularly appealing, but according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Tar Heel state will apparently experience the largest decline in cotton plantings in 2009 in the Southeast.

In its annual Prospective Planting report, issued March 31 by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the USDA said that North Carolina growers intend to plant 375,000 acres of cotton this year, 13 percent less than in 2008.

In the other states of the agency’s Southeastern reporting region, USDA said:

• Alabama producers intend to plant 280,000 acres, down 3 percent from last year and the lowest acreage since 1983.

• Florida producers intend to plant 65,000 acres, down 3 percent from last year.

• Georgia producers intend to plant 940,000 acres, unchanged from last year.

• South Carolina growers intend to plant 140,000 acres, up 4 percent from last year.

• Virginia producers intend to plant 65,000 acres, up 7 percent from last year.

For the entire region, plantings of 1.87 million acres are expected, a decrease of 3 percent from last year.

And nationwide, area planted to all cotton for 2009 is expected to total 8.81 million acres, down 7 percent from last year.

The NASS estimate is credible, said Billy Carter, executive vice-president of the North Carolina Cotton Producers Association. “Still, I think the final acreage may be a little higher. The price for cotton has not been good, but when it comes time for the farmer to plant one crop or another, I wonder if the other choices are going to look that much better. There will be an opportunity in the next few weeks for intentions to plant cotton to increase.”

Still, economics is always the primary consideration when it comes to choosing among farm enterprises, and cotton prices have not had much luster since a skid on the futures market in February.

One factor that could affect cotton plantings in North Carolina was the wet weather experienced in the eastern part of the state late in March.

“This is prime corn planting time,” he said on April 1. “The rain may cut down on corn planting, and the freed–up acres might go into cotton.”

But the main competition for cotton at the time this article was written was soybeans, said Keith Edmisten, North Carolina cotton Extension specialist, and conditions might well improve before they are planted.

Edmisten said he didn’t have any reason to contest the USDA estimate for the state. “But farmers were just beginning to make their decisions when the survey was conducted. We thought the acreage could make it to 400,000 acres, but it would not be surprising to see it fall lower than that.”

Some acreage in eastern North Carolina could be diverted to cotton from peanuts, another crop that is faced with some pricing problems.

Farmer Thomas Sugg of Snow Hill, N.C., told Southeast Farm Press that in his particular area of the Coastal Plain, many farmers were saying they would plant less cotton or none at all.

But when it comes down to planting or not, he believed most will plant some.

The low price is still a concern for cotton, particularly because there hasn’t been a lot of relief on input prices since last year.

“Potash is still high,” said Sugg. “Though nitrogen has dropped some, the liquid fertilizers we use are still really high.”

But Sugg said he will make no significant change in his cotton plantings from last year. ”We will plant close to 950 or 1,000 acres,” he said. “That is normal for us.”

Besides cotton, Sugg intends to plant 230 acres of tobacco along with some soybeans and produce, mainly watermelons.

“A month ago, one of my neighbors said he was going to plant corn and soybeans and not plant any cotton,” he said. “But now corn and beans have dropped off. So he may change his mind.”

Area planted to all cotton for 2009 is expected to total 8.81 million acres, down 7 percent from last year.

Of the projected national cotton acreage, upland cotton is expected to account for 8.67 million acres, 7 percent below last year and the lowest since 1983.

American-Pima cotton growers intend to plant 143,500 acres, down 18 percent from last year.

e-mail: cebickers@aol.com