Planting of cotton in southeast Missouri increases

Wednesday, May 30, 2012 | 2:30 p.m. CDT; updated 5:21 p.m. CDT, Monday, June 25, 2012
Missouri cotton farmer Rick Faulkner holds cotton seed in his hands on his farm near Miner. A lack of rain is interfering with planting, but Missouri is maintaining its level of cotton production compared to other states who are cutting back.

CAPE GIRARDEAU — Cotton crops may be dwindling in the major cotton states, but planting is on the rise in Missouri.

The Southeast Missourian reported that farmers in the five Missouri Bootheel counties that grow cotton will plant about 400,000 acres this year, up from 375,000 acres in 2011. The increase comes as most other states that grow cotton are planting less.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the only other state projected to increase cotton production is South Carolina.

"Missouri cotton growers are blessed with great growing situations in the Bootheel region, because the majority of ground is irrigated, which really helps with overall crop consistency," said Bobby Skeen, spokesman for the trade group The Cotton Board.

Part of the reason for cotton's decline nationwide is a recent drop in prices. Prices dropped to 82 cents per pound in May from 93 cents in April, said Jon Devine, chief agricultural economist for another trade group, Cotton Inc.

"A variety of reasons could be behind the decrease, including India's elimination of restrictions on fiber exports, rain in West Texas and less positive economic data in the U.S. and Europe," he said.

Missouri's cotton crop is small compared to other states that grow it. Cotton is grown only in five counties in the far southeastern corner of the state.

Crop rotation may be one factor in the increase in cotton acres this year in Missouri, experts said. Still, this year is shaping up to be a challenging one for southeast Missouri cotton farmers.

The weather has been extremely dry in the area, and insects and herbicide-resistant weeds are also causing problems, said Andrea Phillips, cotton specialist at the University of Missouri Delta Research Center in Portageville.

A tiny bug called a thrips is a problem for cotton, and thrips have been spotted in Missouri crops. Red spiders, which usually attack cotton later in the season, have already been seen in fields. So have budworms and bollworms. Meanwhile, herbicide-resistant pigweed has been a struggle for cotton farmers, too, Phillips said.

Pemiscot, New Madrid and Dunklin counties are in a severe drought, according to the USDA's Drought Monitor. Scott and Stoddard counties are in a moderate drought. Most counties in the region have received less than an inch of rain in the past month.

"There's still lots of cotton that has not been planted because it's been too dry. Some places are trying to irrigate, to get the seeds up, but that's not a normal practice," said Mike Milam, an agronomy specialist with the University of Missouri Extension office in Dunklin County.

The USDA said that as of May 20, about 79 percent of Missouri's cotton had been planted. Farmers reported 17 percent of it in poor condition, 45 percent in fair condition and 37 percent in good condition.

Although it is not a major player in cotton, Missouri's crop has some advantages. The state's growing season is longer than some others, which makes for stronger and longer cotton fibers, Milam said.

"Mills are looking for the best strength and the best quality to make the best material. A shorter season sometimes doesn't have all the characteristics everyone is looking for," he said.

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