Tropical Storm Gordon’s Impact on Cotton and Peanuts in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties

Tropical Storm Gordon’s Impact on Cotton and Peanuts in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties

Cotton laid down in the field by Tropical Storm Gordon.

For most row crop growers in Florida, Tropical Storm Gordon had minimal impact.  However, in the westernmost part of the state, much of the cotton suffered significant damage.  Though the winds were not extremely strong, the combination of saturated soils and winds wreaked havoc on what had looked like a stellar cotton crop.

The western Panhandle had been blessed with ample rains throughout the summer.  Prior to T.S. Gordon making landfall on September 3, many farmers were excited about the prospective yields for their 2018 cotton crop.  In northern Escambia County, farmers reported rainfall ranging from 7-11 inches.  Though the area did not receive a long period of high winds,  the combination of waterlogged soils and wind caused a great deal of lodging in cotton that was nearing full maturity almost ready to be defoliated.  Canopies heavy with loaded bolls and wet leaves laid down on damp soil and have not since righted their position.  The bolls touching wet ground have rotted off the plant.  The plants are matted throughout the field.   Many farmers have shared their concerns with the difficulty of defoliating a field that has cotton laying across the row middles.

Though the winds from T.S. Gordon died down within 24 hours, the rains continued.  It has continued to rain regularly since September 3rd.  Not only is the cotton worse for wear, but peanut harvest has been steadily delayed by the rains.  Greg Phillips, manager of Birdsong Peanuts-McCullough, said “Peanut harvest in the area has been greatly slowed by the rain.”  He estimates that around 7% of the entire crop has been harvested, whereas if the weather conditions had been favorable, 15% of the year’s crop would been harvested by this time.  He does report good grades so far, but he is concerned that further delays might cause a decline in both yield and grades.

The  Agroclimate image below shows the total rainfall in inches from August 13th to September 25th.  It is evident that the western Panhandle and Lower Alabama have received ample amounts of rain, but the story that it doesn’t tell is that all of this rainfall is coming at a time of year when conditions are generally starting to dry out for harvesting.

The image below from Agroclimate provides a good comparison of rainfall totals from the past 45 days to September 25.  The map of the southeast on the left shows the historical average rainfall for this time of year  The more colorful map of the southeast on the right shows the deviation from “normal” rainfall amounts.  In the case of late summer 2018, T.S. Gordon brought in much higher than average rainfall in the areas shaded in blue and purple.

It will take some time to know the full extent of the impact from T.S. Gordon.  Crop damage appears significant, but the full effects will not be known until after the completion of the 2018 crop harvest.

Farm Bill Seed Cotton and Hurricane Program Updates

Farm Bill Seed Cotton and Hurricane Program Updates

Cotton field with open white bolls

On September 7, 2018, courtesy of Clover Leaf and Sowega Cotton Gins, the Jackson County Extension Office hosted a two-hour meeting for cotton growers. Don Shurley Professor Emeritus of the University of Georgia and John VanSickle with the University of Florida shared pertinent information regarding risk management program decisions, and the upcoming deadlines for cotton growers. This meeting was also web broadcast via Zoom to participating Extension Offices across Florida’s Panhandle in order to increase the number of producers reached. The meeting was recorded live and the labelled presentations are available below for viewing along with their PDF versions.

The first hour consisted of Don Shurley giving an overview of the seed cotton program (specifically in terms of how it works and how prices and payments will be calculated) and then discussing the generic base conversion options.  The following was the recorded presentation explaining the Seed Cotton Program provided at this training.

Important date regarding the seed cotton program:
1. December 7, 2018 -enrollment deadline for seed cotton program and make base elections.

Seed Cotton Program Overview Handout used at the meeting
Printer friendly Seed Cotton Presentation
Seed Cotton Program Decision Aid spreadsheet mentioned in the presentation

Dr. Shurely also wrote an article on the Seed Cotton Program: Understanding Your Generic Base Conversion Options with the New Seed Cotton Program

After the farm bill update, Dr. Shurely also briefly covered the Market Facilitation Program (MFP) and what it entails.

Market Facilitation Program (MFP) Handout

During the second hour, John VanSickle discussed the Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program (WHIP). This program enables the USDA’s Farm Service Agency to make disaster payments to offset losses from hurricanes and wildfires during 2017. WHIP covers both the loss of the crop, tree, bush or vine as well as the loss in production.

Important dates regarding the WHIP program:
1. November 16, 2018- enrollment deadline.

WHIP Program Factsheet
Printer friendly WHIP Presentation

Cotton Marketing News: Pre-Harvest Outlook & Hurricane Florence Impacts

Cotton Marketing News: Pre-Harvest Outlook & Hurricane Florence Impacts

Don Shurley, Professor Emeritus of Cotton Economics

Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone, but especially for our fellow farmers and cotton producers in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.

The very latest projected path of the storm (as of this morning), takes it along the North Carolina coast then inland across virtually all of South Carolina.  This storm is slow moving—meaning that it will dump a lot of rain, and there will be high winds for several days.

Accumulated rainfall from this storm is expected to total 12-18 inches or much more in some areas and accompanied by high winds.  Most areas, even if not in the most heavily impacted area, are expected to receive totals of 5-12 inches of rainfall.

It looks like Georgia may be fortunate to escape the brunt of any major impact on crop production:

I am relieved to say that with the current path of the storm, impacts on most of Georgia are now expected to be minimal. Eastern counties will still experience some wind gusts from the storm, which could cause isolated power outages, but they are expected to be less than 40 mph. Rainfall will be confined to the northeastern part of the state and should amount to less than two inches in all. The rest of the state should see no rain at all from the storm, which is not good for areas that are currently suffering from dry conditions. The southern half of Georgia should not experience any significant impacts from the storm, and northern Georgia’s impacts will be small and limited in space and time.”   Pam Knox, UGA Agricultural Climatologist.  September 14, 2018

North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia were forecasted to produce a total of 1.58 million bales of cotton this year.  Recognizing the location of most cotton production in these states (based on 2017 county production), it appears that South Carolina cotton will be subject to heavy rainfall as well as North Carolina.  Virginia will receive less and east Georgia mostly 1-2 inches or less.

As we experienced with Irma here in Georgia last year, the damage from sustained high wind can be significant—resulting not only in lost lint from open bolls, but also twisted and lodged plants difficult to harvest.  As of Sept 9, the NC crop was 43% open, SC 28%, and VA 37%.

Market Update

The visions of a return to 90-cent cotton appear to be fading.  The good news is that the market is clearly showing signs of good support at roughly 82 cents.  Support is a good thing; but prices (Dec futures) have struggled to clear a hurdle at 85 cents—we’ll first have to clear 85, if we hope to reach 90.  Producers looking for an opportunity to add on to earlier sales, support is good but a rally is even better.

USDA’s September estimates raised the US crop to 19.68 million bales—440,000 bales higher than the August estimate.  The 2018 forecast yield was lowered just a bit, but acres planted was raised 520,000 acres.

The US crop is still a big unknown.  This is one thing giving us support.  Texas, as of Sept 9, is 62% poor to very poor condition.  The September USDA numbers lowered the Texas state average yield to a projected 694 lbs/acre—down from 726, but added roughly 200,00 more acres to be harvested.

US exports projected for the 2018 crop year were raised 200,000 bales from 15.5 million bales to 15.7 million.  World demand is strong but there is some skepticism within industry about whether or not USDA is over-reaching a bit on its export number.  2017 crop year exports were 15.85 million bales.

Compared to the August estimates, China’s production for this season was raised 1 million bales; India production was unchanged; Australia production was cut 550,000 bales and Brazil raised ½ million bales; Chinese imports and use were unchanged; Bangladesh and Vietnam imports were unchanged.

Although prices appear to have good support, producers should be 50% sold or better at this point.  The current level of prices (in the 82 cent neighborhood) is disappointing compared to where we have been.  But if you’re not already at the 50% level, you also need to think about guarding against this market going to less than 80 cents and you being at-risk with most of your crop.

On the other hand, if you are already 50% or more priced, rallies to the 85 cent area could be a good opportunity to add further to sales—unless you want to take the risk of holding out for 85 to 90—but then realizing  you’re also taking the risk that the current level of support will hold.




Cotton Marketing News:  Extraneous Matter—The Plastics Issue

Cotton Marketing News: Extraneous Matter—The Plastics Issue

Don Shurley, Professor Emeritus of Cotton Economics

Contamination from plastics is a hot-button topic in the US cotton industry right now.  It should be.  It’s a serious problem.  Major culprits include plastic wrap from round modules, shopping bags from stores, and plastic used as ground cover in the production of previous crops in a field.

Cotton bales wrapped in plastic in Jackson County. Photo credit: Doug Mayo, UF/IFAS

High quality fiber is one reason foreign mills have beat a path to our door in recent years.  As an industry, anything that impacts the demand and market share for our cotton—especially overseas, needs to be resolved.  The industry is being vigilant in addressing this problem.  Groups have visited foreign mills to observe and discuss the problem.  Also, the National Cotton Council will soon roll out an intensive educational effort.

Beginning with this year’s 2018 crop, the USDA-AMS Cotton Program is implementing new extraneous matter codes, 71 and 72, for plastic—“71” means type 7, level 1 (light) and “72” means type 7, level 2 (heavy).  Producers will begin to see these new 71 and 72 codes on their bale analysis classing reports, if plastic is detected in the sample.For 2018 loan value purposes, FSA will treat plastic as “Other” (codes 61 and 62).  Discounts for plastic are severe.  The loan value discount for level 1 is 460 points or 4.6 cents/lb—about $23 per bale.  The cash/spot market discount for a level 1 is currently mostly 375 to 550 points or, again, roughly $23 per bale.

Prior to this year, any bale sample found to contain plastic was coded as “Other”—a 61 or 62 (see the table above).  “Other” could also be anything else not otherwise in the above table.  But, now that plastic will have its own code, such a bale may be discounted even more severely.  Further, such a bale could be rejected from the market place entirely.

The severity of the plastics problem is not understated.  Therefore, an issue for the industry is this—it appears that classing data does not reflect what we feel is the true severity of the problem.  If bale sampling and classing were detecting any plastic to a great extent, classing data would show it.  If classing doesn’t detect the problem (if there’s plastic in the bale), then coming up with new classing codes wouldn’t necessarily be a solution except to say that if plastic is detected, it will now be coded and better known as such.

Let’s look back 3 years at both Texas and Georgia classing data as examples.  Prior to 2018, if plastic was found in the sample, it was coded as a 61 or 62 and included in the “Other” category.  In 2015, ’16, and ’17 if I take the total bales classed that contained extraneous matter of any sort and then subtracted everything but the “Other” category, then by definition the number of remaining samples classed must be the ones with any other type of contamination—plastic plus anything else not accounted for.The numbers in this table would then be the maximum possible number of bales that, when sampled, were found to contain plastic.  I am told that in some years, samples actually containing plastic were considerably less than this.

For Texas, 2017 was the Hurricane Harvey year and a big jump in 61s and 62s, but still less than 0.05 percent.  In Georgia for 2016, 4,700 running bales or 0.22% classed 61 or 62, but it’s believed most of this number was actually due to whitefly damage.

Unlike plant-based extraneous matter, plastic is generally not uniformly distributed in the bale.   There may be plastic in the bale, but not in the sample.  The plastic may not be realized until that bale gets run in the mill.  THIS is the problem.  If bales with plastic keep showing up, the mill may avoid that gin or origin all together.

Since classing may not necessarily catch the problem, even with the new coding, the only real solution is that producers and gins must be vigilant to adopt practices to keep plastic out.








USDA Researching New Test to Determine Nitrogen Levels in Soil

USDA Researching New Test to Determine Nitrogen Levels in Soil

Surface soil is sampled in a field in Virginia while in winter cover crop, but that will be planted to corn in the spring. Photo by Alan Franzluebbers, USDA/ARS

Sharon Durham, ARS Office of Communications

Nitrogen is the main nutrient added to cereal crops like corn, which makes them grow faster and stronger. But too much of a good thing could sometimes have negative outcomes. Too much nitrogen can run off with rainwater or leach through to soil and contaminate groundwater. Now, a simple, rapid and reliable test can determine the nitrogen amount in soil.

For corn growers, the current assumption is that corn grain requires 1.2 pounds of nitrogen applied for every bushel produced. This works for some soils, but not exactly for others, as the assumption doesn’t factor in nitrogen from soil organic matter. Knowing the soil’s potential to mineralize nitrogen from organic matter, making it available to plants, would help improve nitrogen fertilizer recommendations, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ecologist Alan Franzluebbers, lead investigator of this research.

A series of experiments published in Soil Science Society of America Journal studied the effectiveness of this quick and inexpensive approach that can tell a farmer prior to the growing season how much nitrogen will be available by testing a soil sample. In the first experiment, Franzluebbers, with Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) Plant Science Research Unit in Raleigh, North Carolina, and his colleagues illustrated how soil nitrogen mineralization can be predicted with a three-day analysis of soil-test biological activity (STBA).

Soil is not an inert, dead plot of dirt; it contains many living organisms that enhance the soil’s ability to make nutrients available to plants. Insects, bacteria and fungi play a part in making soil valuable for crop production. The STBA measures how much “life” is contained in soil and how much usable nitrogen is in soil.

In the second experiment, Molly Pershing, a graduate student under Dr. Franzluebbers’ guidance, conducted greenhouse trials to determine if higher levels of STBA actually equated to plant uptake of nitrogen from soil. The researchers found that indeed greater STBA was associated with greater plant nitrogen uptake. Greenhouse-grown plants were not supplied any nutrients other than what was present in soil. More than three-fourths of the plant nitrogen uptake was from organic nitrogen that had to be mineralized, which was well predicted by the STBA level.

In the third experiment, Franzluebbers asked farmers to participate in the research. Forty-seven fields were sampled in the spring for STBA. On those fields, different rates of nitrogen fertilizer were applied to test which was most effective in optimizing corn yield. The higher the STBA level—indicating a large amount of “life” in the soil—the lower the need for additional nitrogen. The lower the STBA level, the greater the need for additional nitrogen.

Adding too little nitrogen can lead to a smaller harvest—costing farmers the opportunity to make more money. Adding too much nitrogen costs farmers money in unnecessary input to soil. Applying nitrogen at the correct levels can optimize yield and profit while keeping excess nutrients out of rivers, lakes and groundwater. Using STBA, corn growers now have a preseason test that can more accurately determine the proper amount of nitrogen to apply for economically optimum yield.

Cotton Marketing News:  It’s Not 90 Cents, But It’s Darn Close

Cotton Marketing News: It’s Not 90 Cents, But It’s Darn Close

In deer hunting, I have too often been guilty of letting a good one walk in hopes that an even better one would come along later.  More often than not, that something better never happens.

After climbing into the 90’s, prices (Dec futures) took a tumble to the 82-83 cent level before beginning to mount a recovery.  That recovery was aided in part by USDA’s July 12th crop production and supply/demand numbers.  Prices have again began to slip just a bit and currently stand around 87 cents.

I can’t possibly know where you are in terms of your 2018 crop marketing decisions—how much has been priced and how—cash, Options, etc.  But my guess is that cotton growers are in one of several situations right now:

At Least a Little Bit Early On.  Some growers likely started pricing around 73 to 75 cents basis Dec.  Depending on how much was done there, additional sales could have been added probably at around 80 cents.

Nothing Early But Later.  Some growers maybe held off or missed at the 75 cent level for whatever reason and then jumped in at around 80 cents.  Likely have done additional sales since then.

Got 90 Cents or Better on Part of It.  I would hope that most growers, somehow, took advantage of the move to 90 cents or better.  I could see, however, that if a grower was already fairly well out on the limb at 75 to 80 cents that he/she may not have felt comfortable doing any more.

Missed 90 Cents.  For whatever reason, didn’t pull the trigger at 90+ and maybe has yet to even price anything.  It’s hard to imagine being in the situation of not having done anything at this point but I’m sure it’s happened.

We’re approaching August—IMHO always a critical time in the development of both the crop and price direction.  USDA’s July numbers hopefully gave the market some added support and the August estimate will be the first based on actual acres planted and yield estimates for each state.

In quick summary, in the July estimates:

  • The projected 2018 US crop was cut 1 million bales—due mostly to an increase in abandonment in the Southwest.
  • 2017 crop exports were increased 200K bales to 16.2 million—lowering carry-in stocks to the 2018 crop year.
  • 2018 crop exports were lowered ½ million bales.
  • Projected World use for the 2018 crop year was raised 1.6 million bales including a 1 million bale increase for China and 200K increase for both Bangladesh and Pakistan.
  • A reduction was made in China’s stocks—a 3 ½ million bale adjustment, correcting what some observers have said has been needed for a while.
  • No adjustments from the June estimates were made in China’s production and imports for the 2018 crop year.

The US crop is still uncertain and we’ll see what the August numbers show.  The July estimate accounted for a lower Southwest crop.  Could the Southwest crop still get smaller? Yes, but some of that could be offset by larger crops in other states.

The market has rallied to recover roughly half of the fall from 90+ cents.  The market has adjusted back up and the July numbers were good from a price-impact and support standpoint.  The likely range for prices in the near term is 82 to 90 cents.

We’re not at 90 cents, but the market is offering another good opportunity for additional pricing and/or price protection.