03/29/07 — Corn crop increases could put damper on cotton

View Archive

Corn crop increases could put damper on cotton

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on March 29, 2007 1:45 PM

Wayne County residents will see fewer acres of cotton this year as farmers turn more of their attention to corn.

The growing interest in ethanol and resulting demand for corn have led many eastern North Carolina growers to plan to plant more corn and less cotton this year, agricultural officials say.

Kevin Johnson, field crop agent with the Wayne County office of the state Cooperative Extension Service, said corn prices have increased significantly and farmers are paying attention. Meanwhile, he pointed out, cotton prices have dipped. He said the result is expected to be about a 30 percent decrease in cotton production in Wayne.

"With the corn prices up, folks are going to grow corn. If the cotton prices increase, they'll probably grow cotton again," he said.

In his State of the Union Address, President George Bush said the United States should diversify its energy supply to reduce its dependence on foreign oil. The president's plan calls for the country to reduce its reliance on gasoline by 20 percent over the next decade.

Ethanol, which can be made from corn and certain other crops such as sugar cane, rice and wheat, is considered by many to be a potentially significant alternative to petroleum fuels, or at least a major additive to reduce the consumption of oil. And the demand for corn has driven the price up, causing farmers across the county and the country to take on the risk of growing more corn. In Wayne County alone, farmers are expected to cultivate 10,000 more acres of corn than last year.

Cotton prices could rise again, but it might take some time, Johnson said. The price of cotton futures, which are nearly half the price they were two years ago, has caused farmers to grow less of the crop nationwide, according to federal agriculture statistics. That, in turn, created less cotton in the world market. It might take a year or two, but cotton prices could rise again because of supply and demand, Johnson said.

Cotton had not been grown in most of eastern North Carolina for decades until the 1990s, when many growers saw a chance to make money. It rapidly grew to become the crop planted on more acres of Wayne land than any other.

That could change this year, Johnson said, noting that all agriculture is price-driven.

"I know of one farmer who went from growing about 1,000 acres of cotton last year to zero this year. There are some who may have went from 800 acres last year to 600 acres this year. Most are just backing off a little bit, but it has hit some pretty hard," he said.

Some farmers own a share in one of the county's two cotton gins, located near Goldsboro and near Mount Olive. Those farmers already have a financial obligation to the gin, which means some of their land is also obligated to cotton production, Johnson said.

"They won't have much choice. They still have to grow cotton," he said.

Although cotton prices are lower and acreage has shrunk, Johnson said cotton farmers could still see a successful year, which is something all of them are hoping for.

"I don't know what the lasting effects will be, but they'll need to gin a lot of cotton to make their payments," he said.