Arkansas cotton acreage reaches record low, grain sorghum acres triple in 2015; some report numbers may be in doubt
By Ryan McGeeney
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture
- USDA’s annual acreage report shows decline in Arkansas cotton, rise in grain sorghum
- Statistical Service casts some doubt on Midwest figures due to weather events
- Soybeans remain strong with good profit margin relative to other commodities
LITTLE ROCK — In the wake of several major weather events throughout the spring, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service announced Tuesday that it will resurvey four states, including Arkansas, Texas, Kansas and Missouri in order to reassess acreage and forecasts for 2015.
“Weather impacted crops across the United States this year,” read a statement issued by the service Tuesday. “Several of the states experienced droughts, while others saw some of the wettest spring weather in recorded history.”
The announcement came on the same day the USDA released its annual acreage report, which reflects the amount of acreage dedicated to various crops throughout the country, also forecasting the amount of acres that will be harvested, based on historical data.
The statement said analysts believe the weather may have affected surveys of cotton in Texas, which produces 58 percent of the nation’s crop, sorghum in Kansas and soybeans in Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri.
The USDA acreage report’s estimate of total Arkansas cotton acreage was significantly higher than an estimate generated earlier in June by the Boll Weevil Eradication Board, which put total planted cotton acres in Arkansas at 198,500 acres.
Bill Robertson, extension cotton agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said he expected that the estimated acreage, plus the number of acres whose planting was prevented, would add up to the NASS estimate.
According to the USDA acreage report, about 240,000 acres of cotton had been planted in Arkansas in 2015, about 20 percent greater than the BWEB’s assessment. Either number marks a record low figure for cotton in Arkansas, and a significant drop-off from 2014, when growers planted about 335,000 acres of the crop.
Across the country, cotton acres declined about 18 percent, according to that report, although that summary may be in doubt if the Texas numbers are unreliable. According to Tuesday’s statement from NASS, any data that conflicts with the original surveys will be published in the department’s Crop Production Report in August.
Robertson said the continued increase in input prices for cotton growers, paired with low market prices, was the most obvious motivator for farmers shifting their available acres away from cotton and toward other crops, despite recent record-breaking yields for cotton in Arkansas.
“The last two years in a row, we’ve broken our state average yield,” Robertson said. “We’ve had record yields, and we’ve still lost cotton acres.”
After dipping to the mid-300,000-acre range in cotton in the mid-1970’s, Arkansas rebounded to host more than 1 million acres of planted cotton by the end of the 1980’s, Robertson said. Now, as cotton prices hover in the mid 60-cent-per-pound range, Robertson said that declining industry infrastructure may make it more difficult for the commodity to rebound.
“This last fall, we went from 39 active cotton gins in Arkansas to 35 gins,” he said. “There are a number of gins right now that probably already made a decision to get out. There are going to be gin owners this year that look at the amount of cotton coming from their traditional customers, and decide ‘we can’t justify opening our doors for no more cotton than there is.’
“I don’t know how many, I don’t know which ones, but we are going to lose more gins this year,” Robertson said.
Meanwhile, grain sorghum, a commodity that has enjoyed skyrocketing popularity among American growers throughout 2015, exploded in Arkansas. Planted acreage for grain sorghum increased by about 25 percent across the country this year, and nearly tripled in Arkansas, with farmers planting about 500,000 acres of the grain across the state.
However, Scott Stiles, agricultural economist for the Division of Agriculture, said that the estimate seemed high, given he heavy rains throughout the spring, and the fact that the 500,000 acre estimate is double what a March 31 survey of Arkansas growers reported they intended to plant.
Regardless of the precise figure, Jason Kelley, extension wheat and grains agronomist for the Division of Agriculture, said the increased interest in grain sorghum is in direct result to increased demand from Chinese buyers.
“China is basically buying everything they can right now, and that’s greatly increased our prices, and in turn, acres planted,” Kelley said.
He said that while market prices for grain sorghum aren’t especially high, they are very attractive in contrast to many other commodity prices right now.
Wheat acreage remained essentially unchanged across the country, but in Arkansas, dropped significantly from 465,000 acres planted in 2014 to 350,000 acres in 2015, according to the report.
Soybeans have continued to provide a good return on input costs relative to other commodities.
Overall soybean acreage across the country rose slightly, increasing by 2 percent, according to the USDA report, and soybeans planted in Arkansas rose by about 60,000 acres to a total of 3.3 million.
Jeremy Ross, extension soybean agronomist for the Division of Agriculture, said that the severe flooding in isolated areas of Arkansas will have relatively little effect on soybean yield or market prices, despite many growers in those areas deciding to plant soybeans on top of flooded crops such as corn. The overall market may, however, be affected by heavy ongoing rains in Kansas and Missouri, where growers have struggled to complete planting, Ross said.
He said the accuracy of yield forecasts in Arkansas will depend on whether the state enjoys another relatively mild summer.
“If we go back into a pattern of temperatures in the upper 90’s, breaking 100 degrees, that’s going to be pretty tough on the soybean crop, and we may not see the record yields we’ve seen the last couple of years,” Ross said.
Isolated flooding in the Arkansas River Valley and the Red River Valley may also have impacted hay yield in the state, which the USDA report forecasts to fall by about 16 percent, to just over 1 million acres in 2015.
Long grain rice production in Arkansas fell slightly, from about 1,270,000 acres planted to about 1,150,000 acres this year. Medium grain rice increased slightly, from about 215,000 acres planted to about 240,000 planted, according to the report.
Jarod Hardke, extension rice agronomist for the Division of Agriculture, said relatively cool temperatures and heavy rainfall affected the amount of rice that was successfully planted this spring, and may ultimately affect the harvest as well.
“The cold and the wet from late march through most of April put a damper on some of it.,” Hardke said. “Then we got a pretty good run into June, but there are definitely some acres in there that were delayed.”
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