Rising production costs and the stability of commodity prices are the chief worries of farmers who attended the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show in late February in Memphis, Tenn.
Shep Morris farms cotton, corn and soybeans in Macon and Montgomery counties in Alabama, and was the 2005 Southeast High Cotton award winner. He says his cotton crop “was okay, but it was a tough harvest. It started raining the first day of September and I don’t think it stopped all fall. We got all our crops out Dec. 28. We’ve never been that late before.”
Morris will stick with his usual crop mix for 2010, “but we’ll probably have a little more cotton. It’s really more the way our rotation falls. Cotton and our other crops are a system, they work together.”
Morris says the biggest challenge facing him as a cotton producer is “trying to hold the cost of production down. Cotton is only worth so much, so you have to take it back in the other direction and hold production costs down.”
Morris says one way he’s addressed higher seed, fertility and technology costs is to plant 100 percent conventional cotton. “The last year or two we’ve had to spray for worms a little bit. We went two years where we didn’t spray. But at the end of the day, we’re having to spray the technology for worms too.
“We’ve got our herbicide program pretty much down pat. We’ve been rotating our chemistries in our cotton and we really haven’t had many weed resistance problems. I’m sure they’re going to show up.”
Morris said conventional cottons have also provided good quality, “with a 37 staple and a lower micronaire. Our turnout increased too.”
Jerry Goodman, who farms rice, soybeans and corn near Corning , Ark., says the lack of control over rising input costs is a huge risk to assume each year. “We can get started, then fuel, fertilizer and seed go up and the prices we get for our product go down. Then we get the short end of the stick.”
Goodman is planning to plant more rice in 2010, noting, “It’s a more durable crop. It’s not as subject to suffer from too much water or drought as the other crops. With the varieties and hybrids they have today, we can make good yields.”
Goodman says hybrids and Clearfield rice varieties have become a big part of his production program, although some have given him standability problems when exposed to severe weather. “If you get a halfway decent year, they’ll stay with you. But if you get a windstorm, you’re going to scratch your head. But we didn’t have much trouble with our rice crop last year.”
The 2009 season “started out bad, got ugly, but we still made pretty good crops,” Goodman said. “Our corn suffered the most. We had to replant a lot of it. It had two hail storms on it. It was one of those years.”
Mike Rial, who farms cotton, wheat, corn and soybeans in Phillips, Monroe and Lee counties in Arkansas, said, “We had some damage from the rain, but we were lucky to get a lot of it out before the rains really hit. The blessing was not having a lot of cotton acres. We harvested all of it, but we made only 650 pounds and we usually pick around 1,000 pounds.”
Rial plans to stick with the same crop mix in 2010. “We might increase cotton if the price goes up. It has increased some, but not enough to make a difference.”
Rial said it would take “at least 78 cents, net 70 cents,” for him to bump cotton above what he is currently planning for the crop. I’m not going to get out of cotton. I’m a cotton farmer who happens to be producing a lot of soybeans and wheat.”
Rising input costs are big concern for Rial. “The tech fees, corn and cotton seed cost $100 an acre just to get it in the ground. We spend so much money. We stick our necks out farther and farther every year.”
Danny Babb, a producer from Charleston, Mo., says his corn, soybean and wheat crops turned out as well as could be expected in 2009 considering the difficult year. “Wheat was a disappointment. We had lots of disease and discounts on test weight, and we had some vomitoxin (a mycotoxin), which we’ve never had to deal with before.
“Corn turned out remarkably good. It wasn’t the best we’ve ever had, but it was in the Top 5. Our soybean crop was the best we’ve ever had. We had a superb, early-season crop, and our double-crop soybeans turned out reasonably well.”
A wet spring and fall made planting and harvest difficult for producers throughout the Mid-South, but a cool summer “turned out to be beneficial for some crops, especially the corn,” Babb said. “But we really had to work for it.”
Babb will likely go with a similar crop mix in 2010 although he’ll have fewer acres of wheat, which wasn’t planted to expectations last fall due to wet weather. Those non-planted wheat acres will now be planted to full-season soybeans and “a little more corn.”
The price of commodities, especially whether or not they stay at current levels, is a big concern for Babb. “If we have big crops and South America has another big crop, we could be looking at $5 to $6 soybeans, or $2.50 corn.”