JACKSON, Tenn. — Tennessee cotton producers face challenging early weather conditions and insect pressure, but sound crop management and favorable fall weather could result in the yields needed for profitability in light of softer global cotton prices.
Tyson Raper, University of Tennessee cotton and small grains specialist based in Jackson, said this year’s cool temperatures and excessive rainfall put many producers behind.
"These conditions have resulted in a late start. Several of our fields have not yet reached first flower. The main concern with a late first-flower is running out of heat units to fill the developing bolls," said Raper.
There is time left for a good Tennessee crop, especially if autumn months are warmer, he said.
Cotton farms will need good yields. "Lower prices have started taking their toll on profitability projections," said Chuck Danehower, UT extension farm management specialist in Ripley. His projections, updated July 11, assume 68 cents per pound with dryland cotton yielding 860 pounds per acre. That price level includes lint price plus seed and hauling rebates typical from gins in Tennessee.
The projections show cotton returns just $81 above variable costs, with a $63 per-acre loss projected for returns over variable and land costs. Add in fixed costs, and the projected loss is $148.
"At these prices, producer profits will be dependent on above-average yields," said Danehower.
Higher yields need timely boll set, and that is affected by more than temperature. "Two additional parameters contributing to our late start are cloudy weather and wet soils," said Raper. "Managing for earliness is going to be crucial this year."
Managing for earliness – or attempting to reduce the time it takes to set and mature a profitable boll load – is vital in the Northern Cotton Belt. The sooner plants reach cutout, or the time when vegetative growth slows as bolls develop, the better the chance for increased fiber quality and yields.
A longer time to cutout also increases insect pressure to the cotton plant. UT extension entomologist Scott Stewart, in his July 16 update at the UTCrops blog, said cotton farmers should wait until plant bug populations reach threshold and be prepared to make two applications.
"Too many people are unwilling to let pest populations reach threshold before treating," he wrote. "You should remember that treatment thresholds are set below population levels causing economic damage."
The USDA’s annual June acreage report counted 250,000 acres of cotton in Tennessee. That is up 17,000 acres from last year, but about 15 percent lower than the National Cotton Council’s pre-season planting intentions survey.
This year’s acreage is likely to persist. "The producers raising cotton now are pretty well committed to it," said Danehower. "They generally have some connection to a gin, or maybe their landlord wants them to raise cotton."