Cotton farmers switching to soybean due to Mother Nature

By Josh Harvison - bio | email

WEONA, AR (KAIT) - Several inches of rain on a consistent basis have forced typical cotton farmers to abandon the commodity for soybeans. Several farmers in Poinsett County Monday told Region 8 News they've planted cotton 3-4 times since the planting season began, but it's getting late in the season and Mother Nature hasn't cooperated.

"I used to be mainly a cotton farmer. Just about everything I had was in cotton and throughout the last 2-3 years, we've been cutting our cotton acres back. Because of the low price and the high grain prices this year, we've had to cut our cotton back because of the rain," said Marty White.

White said he farms and manages 11,000 acres of land in Poinsett County. He's been spot-planting areas that have been washed out by too much water.

"We had intentions of planting quite a bit of cotton. Not as much as we used to, but more than what we'll wind up with. We'll wind up with half of what our intentions were," said White.

Cotton prices have dropped significantly. Cotton gins across northeast Arkansas have had a surplus of cotton and countries like China and India have kept the commodity in strong supply.

"Most cotton farmers were going to cut their acres back this year anyways because of low prices and high input costs. What we have planted, we'll have to replant, spot plant, and there's been acres where we've lost the whole fields and we've run out of time to plant cotton," said White.

White manages a large farm; however, Jimmy Cotton works for a farm of 2,000 acres. Of the 2,000 acres, only 1,200 have been planted, according to Cotton. He said most have sustained some type of damage.

"It's really put everything at a standstill. We ain't been able to get seed in the ground and the seed that we have gotten in the ground has rotted. We've had to plant 3 times already," said Cotton. "We got to start from ground zero to do it all over again."

According to White, cotton farms have sustained damage from heavy rain and disease. Disease spreads when plants receive too much moisture for too long. Arkansas, one of the leading cotton producers in the world, grew a record 2.1 million bales in 2004.

"Farmers are faced with challenges from day one. When the growing season starts and anything that's thrown in there, especially like this season, I mean, this is an absolute anomaly," said David Box with Taylor, Stuckey and Patteson Cotton Gin. "It's discouraging. I mean, they have to, they basically live by the forecast and there's nothing they can do about it."

Cotton said his farm has cut 5 positions in the last several months. His employer has had to cut hours and employees due to the lack of work.

"When we started this year, we had, rough estimate, 10-11 guys, since all this we've got down to 6. There's been layoffs and there's probably more layoffs coming. The hours are just terrible because if it rains, we can't get no work because he sends us home," said Cotton.

"They're used to getting up and working hard all day long and when it's wet, there's only so much shop work that you can do," said Box.

Farmers have started moving toward grains in recent years because of escalating prices. Cotton prices have dropped. High fuel prices, fertilizer prices and economic conditions have all been contributing factors in that migration.

"In 35 years of farming, this has been the most difficult start I've ever had. That's doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to wind up being a bad crop, but right now it's pretty bad looking," said White. "We'll just have to sit around and wait. There's nothing we can do with it raining every few days."

The amount of rainfall has put farmers in a bad mood. Each day they pay attention to the forecast and lately have been let down.

"I made my mind up today that I'm not going to be negative, but it's hard to be when it's raining when we're needing to work. We've worked maybe a total of 15 days or 20 days all year long in the field, and we got a lot of work to do and we're running out of time for all our commodities," said White.

Cotton said he doesn't get 40 hours of work each week. With that, he said it's hard taking care of what's important.

"It costs more to raise the beans than it does for the cotton and it takes longer for the beans to develop so we could cut them," said Cotton.

"Until we get the crop up and see what we have to work with that's a viable stand, it's going to be difficult to forecast anything as far as what the gin can do," said Box.

White said farmers are feeling the immediate impact of the surge of rain, but consumers could feel the brunt of Mother Nature at the check-out counter. Grocery prices could rise; however, products which use cotton shouldn't rise in price due to materials.

"You could have higher food prices later because of people not being able to plant on time. By not planting on time, our yields are going to be lower and that could cut back on the total supply," said White. "We need some dry weather. We just need some dry weather. We've got a lot of equipment. The farmers can get it planted in a hurry, but we just need some dry weather."

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