Cotton possesses advantages over other summer crops
By Vic Schoonover
Producers Cooperative Oil Mill
Cotton is the champion when it comes to utilizing precious moisture. In the Southern Plains where dryland farming depends on rainfall, chances are rain will be scarce and scattered. Agricultural research points out cotton plants use much less moisture than competitors like corn and grain sorghum.
While too little moisture means no good growth for any planted crop, just a little moisture occasionally during the growing season will keep a cotton crop growing,
Rotating cotton with winter wheat is another reason for growing the crop. Wheat grown continuously for decades in this region has resulted in a serious problem. Weed seeds from perennial weeds like cheat grass and wild oats contaminate wheat when it is harvested. The presence of the weed seed causes a price dockage on what the farmer is paid for his wheat.
Rotating cotton with winter wheat reduces the number of weeds growing in the wheat because cotton is an entirely different crop than wheat.
“Depending on the global market in a particular year, cotton prices can be competitive with other crops,” said Jeannie Hileman, manager of the Farmers Cooperative gin in Carnegie, Okla. “While cotton lint prices can vary from one year to another, prices paid for the crop can be competitive. Lint from Southern Plains cotton fields are generally exported to mills in several other countries, mainly in Asia. Many of these mills prefer U.S. cotton due to our USDA-AMS classing system data and the low incidence of contamination on the lint. Quality control is number one in handling U.S. cotton lint.”
Hileman explains U.S. cotton is marketed mainly by farmer-owned cooperatives where farmers can put their cotton in a marketing pool, forward contract bales or sell it on the open market. Cotton bales can be stored in cooperative warehouses where individual farmers can participate in the CCC loan program if they desire, she said.
An often overlooked benefit of cotton production is the seed itself, she said. “Gin-run cotton seed is transported to oil mills for processing into livestock feed as meal and cubes along with processed cottonseed oil which is in strong demand as a cooking oil. Recently, seed prices have been high enough to cover all ginning expenses. This provides additional income back to the producer.”
Modern cotton varieties with transgenic traits include Roundup Ready Flex and GlyTol, Bayer CropScience glysophate-tolerant varieties, which give over-the-top herbicide tolerance and Bt resistance for bollworm pests.
Another recent transgenic trait, Liberty Link, which provides tolerance to glusfosinate herbicide has been stacked with glysophate and Bt traits and is available in some cotton varieties, Hileman said. The addition of the Liberty Link trait provides another option for over-the-top applications to improve weed control in young cotton plants, she said.
Varieties containing these technologies generally provide good to excellent yield and quality potential as well as simplifying management for the farmer, she said. Cotton planting seed and technology companies have various shared-risk programs available to producers. These programs include replant programs and technology fee refunds in case of crop loss. Crop insurance programs are also available for producers and can help provide a safety net if a crop failure does occur.
Modern round bale cotton harvesters now offer the cotton farmer the same advantages for harvest available to wheat farmers.
Farmers can now hire a custom harvester with a round bale picker. Using such a system gives the farmer more freedom. He can haul his own modules to gins. Most farmers have trucks and flatbed trailers and tractors with front-end loaders to haul the round bales.
Frozen-out wheat and drought conditions left farmers deciding what crop they could plant to recoup lost income. Cotton provides the producer with an established crop with proven income potential. June 20 was the last date to plant in 2013.