There is little doubt cotton acreage will be down significantly across the Southeast this year, the question that constantly pops up at grower meetings is: Why?

Long-time cotton industry analyst Jerry Marshall says most of the ‘why’ goes back to the recent record high prices for cotton and the entrance into the cotton buying arena of well financed investment groups.

When cotton was grown, bought and sold by cotton people, the industry had its ups and downs, but these were much easier to predict. Now that large investment companies are highly involved in buying and selling cotton there is much more volatility and people with the most experience in the business end of cotton often aren’t the ones making major decisions.                               

The volatility has made it more difficult for growers to know how much cotton to plant and the high risk involved with higher input costs just makes cotton too risky for growers to go all-in on cotton.

Exactly how many acres of cotton is in the ground in the Carolinas and Virginia is going to be difficult to know until the crop is harvested. Despite projected acreage of 3.05 million in the Southeast, the continued strong showing of soybeans and the continued volatility of the cotton market may push cotton acreage lower in the region.

Mark Hodges, who is co-owner and operator of Mid-Atlantic Gin in Emporia, Va.,, says he expects about 80,000 acres of cotton to be planted in Virginia this year. If accurate, that would be a 30,000 acre drop from last year.

In North Carolina, the projections are for as much as a 15 percent drop in cotton acreage from last year. Even conservative estimates call for a drop of 100,000 acres in the Tar Heel state.

The USDA Planting Intentions Survey calls for South Carolina to plant 340,000 acres in 2012, an increase of 12.2 percent from 2011. Farmers and consultants in South Carolina contend that level of increase won’t happen, and that any increase in cotton acreage in the Palmetto state is not likely.