By admin       2017-10-06

:Despite two major hurricanes and a rainy summer, local cotton farmers have been spared much of the feared crop damage that can result from wet or windy weather.But prices have dipped as uncertainty over the potential impact of hurricanes Harvey and Irma wanes.According to Max Runge, an agricultural economist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, cotton prices climbed in September to 75 cents per pound as Harvey careened toward Texas, which is expected to produce about 9 million bales of cotton this year.In the end, between 400,000 and 800,000 bales, only a fraction of anticipated total production, were damaged by Harvey.Irma may have damaged as much as 15 to 20 percent of Georgia’s cotton crop, but the damage was not enough to keep prices elevated as local farmers begin picking what looks to be a good production year.“I don’t know if it will be a record-breaking crop, but it’s a good one,” said Mark Yeager, owner of Red Land Farms in Lawrence County.According to Runge, farmers' relief over the survival of local cotton crops may be tempered somewhat by the dip in prices, which fell to 68 cents per pound this month. That’s well below the $1.91 farmers were getting in February 2011, the high-water mark since the 1970s, but still an improvement over the 26 cents per pound price set in August 1986.Usually, we would like to have a lot more than that,” Runge said.Still, surviving the weather at all is good news for cotton growers across the region, he said.For the farmers that were affected, it really hurt them hard,” he said. “Overall, it didn’t do that much damage to the U.S. cotton crop.”The extent of damage from Irma in southeast Alabama is not yet clear, according to Runge, who said it won't be known until after picking whether the storm impacted quality.The good growing season comes as cotton, once king of the South, appears to be making a comeback after low prices drove farmers to plant more profitable crops such as soybeans and corn.According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Alabama is on track to produce 850,000 bales of cotton this year, up from 706,000 in 2016 and 554,000 in 2015. The 2017 projection does not account for possible storm damage.Runge attributed much of the increase to an overproduction of soy and corn last year that caused prices to fall. Despite the 68 cent per pound price this month, he said cotton was still probably one of the better crops to plant this year.In Limestone County, Extension Coordinator Chris Becker said farmers there had planted more cotton this year, in part due to prices and in part due to regular crop rotation that helps prevent disease.Another positive sign: China, which has a massive reserve of cotton, appears to be working through that supply, which could help push prices higher, Runge said.Despite the increase in cotton farming, Runge said, cotton is not poised to become king of the South again. More than likely, it will remain at its current status as one of a number of possible cash crops from which farmers choose, he said.The 343,000 acres of cotton planted in Alabama last year still ranked below soybeans, which took up more than 410,000 acres, and only slightly above corn, which had 315,000 acres.In Lawrence County, Yeager said he started harvesting his 4,300 acres of cotton last week.We didn’t quit cotton through the quitting years, but there were times I kind of questioned that,” he said.Yeager owns and operates his own cotton gin company in Moulton, the Yeager Gin Co. In order to provide more value to his crop, he also has started Red Land Cotton, which sells sheets and towels from locally grown cotton online and at his new store in Moulton.“I can tell you nearly the field where each sheet came from,” Yeager said, stressing the importance for farmers to emphasize the superior quality of their cotton, when present, to fetch a better price at market.

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