Acreage and harvest trends were substantially higher throughout the U.S. Cotton Belt in 2010 than in the previous production season, providing a springboard for what many are hoping will be an even better 2011.

“Talking with Extension agronomists from across the nation, they’re anticipating an increase in acres in their respective states from 10 to 25 percent. We could get back to 2004-2005 levels in 2011,” says Guy Collins, University of Georgia Extension cotton agronomist. Collins gave a review of 2010 during the opening session of the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Atlanta.

“I think we hit our bottom as far as acres in 2008, and we’re coming out of that now, which is no surprise due to prices,” says Collins.

Yield trends were slightly higher in 2010 than in 2009, he says. “If you look back to 2004, yields have been fairly stable at around the 800-pound mark, which isn’t bad when you look at the entire Cotton Belt. You can see an upward trend from 2000 to 2004, but beyond that, it has been fairly consistent despite heat and drought from this past summer,” he says.

Looking at total bale production from 2004 up until now, it has followed a very close trend to that of harvested acres. Prior to that, it was more correlated to yield trends, he says.

In his region-by-region review of 2010, Collins says essentially every state in the Southeast increased its cotton acreage in 2010 compared to 2009. “Yields were appreciable, although not always what we wanted them to be. In the upper part of the Southeast — Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina — yields were highly variable, depending mainly on rainfall patterns. Drought hit hard in some areas of North Carolina and Virginia.”

Glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth pigweed continues to be a challenge in this region, he says. “And as we move down in the Cotton Belt, we saw some potash deficiencies and resulting leafspot diseases. That was the case throughout the Southeast,” says Collins.

Moving farther South, Georgia had a good start to the season with excellent rainfall and good vigor in the spring.

“But that was followed by a hot and dry summer, primarily in July, which negatively impacted yields in some places, especially for those guys who didn’t have irrigation. The rains returned in August, which saved a few of us, and we were able to make a top crop in some cases, followed by excellent harvest conditions.”

In the lower Southeast, glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth pigweed is an ongoing battle, but growers are being more proactive about the pest, whether it be technology driven or through management practices, says Collins.

Caterpillar pests an issue

Not so much in Georgia but in other parts of the Southeast, caterpillar pests were an issue this year, he adds. “As in other parts of the Southeast, yields were variable, partially dependent upon rainfall. In the latter part of July, our temperatures were extremely high in Georgia. Rainfall patterns were relatively dry compared to past years during the month of July. That forced our crop into a premature cutout in some cases and a lot of stress that could have impacted yields.”

One issue facing these growers in this region is variety changes, especially in Georgia, Alabama and Florida, and to some degree in South Carolina and the southern part of North Carolina, says Collins.

“We relied very heavily on Deltapine 555 as our predominant variety in past years. With the expiration of the single-gene Bt varieties, we are looking frantically for a replacement for our staple variety. We do have some varieties that seem to be competing well with 555, although the list is small. One thing we have seen in just a year is a drastic improvement in our fiber quality which does help the marketability of our cotton.”

Varieties planted in 2010 illustrate the “last gasp” of Deltapine 555, says Collins. Deltapine still dominates in the Southeast region, although there is a growing interest in Phytogen and FiberMax varieties in some of these states, he says.

“As we transition to new varieties, we notice they tend to have different fruiting patterns, and that affects how we manage the crop. Deltapine 555 is very aggressive, requiring aggressive PGR management, and that does not apply to some of these new varieties, so we’re having to change our management style as we make the transition.”

Glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth is a primary challenge that has faced Southeastern growers for the last several years now, he says. “Now it has moved to north Alabama, and we hate it for those growers. However, they may be at a slight advantage in that they can learn from the experiences of farmers who have dealt with this problem in the past.”

In the Mid-South, essentially every state in the region increased its cotton acreage in 2010, notes Collins. Slightly higher yields were seen in 2010 than in 2009, especially in the Delta.

“Starting in the Missouri Bootheel, less rainfall was received than the long-term average. In Missouri, sections of the state went from extremely dry to extremely wet conditions. In Arkansas, they had a warm spring that allowed them to plant earlier. There was injury from pre-emergence herbicides due to rainfall patterns. Plant bugs are an ongoing challenge for those growers, but they were able to manage it with about three applications. They had a hot and dry mid- and late-season.”

Tennessee lost 60,000 acres

Tennessee lost about 60,000 acres of cotton due to flooding, and that land was not replanted to cotton, says Collins.

Mississippi got off to a great start in 2010 with excellent planting conditions, but growers there had a very hot and dry June, says Collins. Record heat in August caused square shed, but harvest weather and yields were good, he adds.

“Louisiana had a very dry spring and had to replant some of their cotton,” says Collins. “Spider mites and plant bugs are an ongoing challenge throughout the Mid-South, along with potash deficiencies.”

In the Mid-South, Stoneville varieties appear to dominate the region, he says. But there is a growing interest in Phytogen varieties, especially in Tennessee, with more than 60 percent of their acres planted to Phytogen varieties.

Challenges in 2011 for the Mid-South include glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth, says Collins. “Growers there are attracted to grain crops, largely due to the shift in infrastructure and the costs associated with producing a grain crop versus producing cotton. There are opportunities for cotton in the region for 2011, one being price, which could reward us all. High prices along with improved varieties and new technology could make cotton very competitive in this region.”

In the Mid-South and in the Southeast this year, high micronaire was observed in some cases, says Collins. “That comes as no surprise with the varieties we’re planting along with hot and dry conditions. It was widely variable depending on the state and the rainfall received.”

In the Southwest, growers had a good year, with frequent rainfall throughout the entire season, says Collins. Texas dominated the Cotton Belt with more than 5 million acres.

“It’s difficult to discuss in general terms the state of Texas because it is so large,” says Collins. “In south and central Texas, they had a relatively expensive production year, largely due to insect pests such as flea hoppers and stink bugs. But they did have decent yields. In April and May, rainfall delayed planting in some of the Blackland areas, and rainfall also slowed crop growth substantially.”

High Plains growers had several challenges, but they had a good start with a dry June and wet July. “These are some of luckiest growers in the nation in that they do not have glyphosate-resistant Palmer armaranth pigweed yet. Texas growers had near-record bale production this past year with excellent fiber quality.”

The Western states of Arizona and California both increased their cotton acreage in 2010. Both states had marginal conditions in the spring with freezing occurring into May, says Collins. Good fall conditions allowed them to mature their crop and achieve high yields.

“In Arizona, the pink bollworm eradication program is coming to an end, largely due to the success of Bt cotton in the region. Roundup Ready Flex Pima varieties will be offered in 2011, so there may be an increase in Pima acreage this year.

For 2011, considering the recent price rally along with the availability of new technology and equipment, the outlook appears very positive for U.S. producers, says Collins.

phollis@farmpress.com