Cotton acreage across the Cotton Belt will jump by 10 percent to 20 percent in 2010 as farmers take advantage of better prices.

Extension cotton specialists from across the Belt predicted a significant acreage jump and offered a postmortem on the 2009 crop during a Dow AgroSciences PhytoGen Cottonseed Team state cotton specialists breakfast at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in New Orleans.

Last year was a tough one for much of the Mid-South, Southeast and scattered areas in the Southwest.

“It was the toughest season in 40 years,” said Mississippi State University cotton specialist Darrin Dodds. He said a decent start turned into a fall deluge that inundated much of the crop. “We had 75 inches of rain for the year. From 75 percent to 80 percent of the fields had hard lock. The north Delta crop was better.”

Despite the disappointing year, Dodds anticipates farmers will increase cotton acreage in 2010. “Acreage will be market-dependent. At 80 cents a pound, I expect acreage to be up 20 percent.”

Tom Barber, Arkansas cotton specialist, said his farmers had a hard year as well. “Most of our crop was planted past the optimum seeding window and some farmers planted two or three times.”

He said farmers will be lucky to make a state average yield of 800 pounds per acre. Typical yield is closer to 1,000 pounds. “We lost 30 percent to 50 percent of the crop.” But acres will increase this year. “Ginners will encourage cotton acreage. We expect 600,000 acres of cotton in 2010, up from 490,000 last year.”

“It was a frustrating year for Georgia cotton growers,” said Jared Whitaker, new cotton specialist for UGA Extension. “About 40 percent of our cotton was planted in June compared to a usual 20 percent (planted that late). In November we had 80 percent of the crop still in the field. Some areas are still picking.”

Whitaker said Georgia farmers planted slightly less than 1 million acres of cotton last year, but he expects a 10 percent increase in 2010.

In Alabama, Auburn University Extension cotton specialist Charles Burmester said the north Alabama cotton crop “is out. The south Alabama crop is still in the field.”

Acreage was down significantly last year, to 256,000 acres. “The biggest cotton farmer in the state planted no cotton last year. But we’ll see an increase in 2010. Price will be the key factor. A March rally will help.”

Burmester said the anticipated state average yield for 2009, 750 pounds per acre, “is phenomenal, considering the weather. Early plantings were hurt the worst. We had concerns about maturity with the late crop, but we had some heat late that helped make a decent crop.”

Chris Main, University of Tennessee, said heavy rains last spring caused trouble early. Some farmers, he said, could not get corn planted so they intended to switch to cotton. They couldn’t get cotton planted on time either and “planted beans in July.”

Some of the better cotton land, he said, lies along rivers without levees. Heavy rains inundated those fields. An expected 900-pound per acre yield for 2009 is “350 to 400 pounds off where it should have been.”

Tennessee farmers planted 300,000 acres in cotton in 2009. This year’s acreage “will depend on how much water recedes through winter and spring and then on spring rainfall.” He expects acreage to increase by 20 percent.

North Carolina acreage also will be up, according to cotton specialist Keith Edmisten. “Farmers are coming back to cotton — a lot who got out left temporarily and still have cotton equipment. Acreage this year will depend on price.”

The 2009 Southwest crop was a mixture of good, average and disaster.

“It was an up and down year,” said Oklahoma State University Extension cotton specialist J.C. Banks. He expects a record average yield, but overall production to be off a bit.

Banks said some areas are beginning to see severe nematode problems. “That has become the No. 1 limiting factor in some fields."

Gaylon Morgan, Texas state Extension cotton specialist, said south Texas cotton farmers were hard hit by drought. “A lot of cotton in the Coastal Bend was disastered out,” he said. He expects acreage in south and central Texas to be up by 10 percent to 20 percent this year.

Randy Boman, Texas Extension cotton specialist in the High Plains, said acreage will be up “a little” in his area. He’s concerned about increasing disease pressure, especially from Verticillium and Fusarium wilt.

Arizona cotton farmers will plant about 20 percent more cotton in 2010, says Extension specialist Randy Norton. That includes both Pima and Upland varieties. He expects cotton to displace some alfalfa and forage crops as the state’s dairy industry scales back.

“We had a good crop on 140,000 acres in 2009."

email: rsmith@farmpress.com