Arkansas' corn plantings may exceed 600,000 acres in 2012, up from 560,000 acres last year, University of Arkansas agricultural economist says; cotton plantings to fall to 619,000 acres, down from 680,000 acres

Andrew Rogers

Andrew Rogers

Mar 9, 2012 – Associated Press

JONESBORO, Arkansas , March 9, 2012 () – For the 2012 crop year, corn and cotton acreage in Arkansas may converge at the 600,000-acre mark, but from different directions, according to Scott Stiles of Jonesboro, Extension economist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

"The recent National Cotton Council survey indicated that Arkansas' 2012 cotton acreage may dip to 619,000, down from 680,000 last year," Stiles told the University of Arkansas Extension service. "Questions remain as to how many corn acres we will gain in the state. Last year we had 560,000. The most recent high in corn acreage was 610,000 in 2007."

In northeast Arkansas, particularly east of Crowley's Ridge, cotton has always been king and in all likelihood will remain so, officials said.

"Right now what we are seeing is that for our farmers they will grow about what they did in 2011," said Maeleisa Finch, manager of the Kiech-Shauver-Miller gin in Monette. "We've seen a dip in the cotton market recently, but there is still time for growers to get their plans made and everything set for spring planting."

She said most of the folks with whom she has talked also believe there won't be a drastic change in cotton acres in this part of the state. Some have even said there may be a slight increase, particularly if the market increases.

Last year's cotton crop was up in acres from the previous year, and yield was off a little on a per-acre basis, largely because of a cool spell in late August when cotton really needed the heat to set the top crop.

Finch said a crop consultant told her the top crop didn't finish off like it should have.

"He told me that before the cool spell hit, we were sitting on a crop as good as the previous year," Finch said. "I'm hoping this year we all have it a little easier."

While state officials predict a dip in cotton acres and a rise of corn, mostly in southern Arkansas, Finch and others believe the crop will remain stable in this part of the state, where corn is generally a rotation crop.

"We're really set up for cotton in this part of the state," Finch said. And if the market stays above 90 cents a pound, there should be no negative changes in acreage here.

Andy Vangilder of Piggott, Extension staff chairman in Clay County, said: "It's looking like we'll see about the same, maybe a little more."

But he believes that will be affected by price.

"If corn shoots up and cotton drops off, I think we will see a few more acres of corn," he said. "Our cotton guys tell me they will plant about the same as last year."

Finch noted that like other growers in Arkansas agriculture, cotton producers are fighting pigweed and higher costs across the board.

Even though the cotton market dipped a little, area officials are seeing positive signs with December futures at 91.64 and potentially rising.

Finch said everyone in the cotton business is watching China and West Texas.

China is a major buyer of cotton, and West Texas a major cotton producer that has experienced drought and irrigation difficulties. If China buys more cotton, and West Texas grows fewer acres, then there should be a positive swing in cotton prices and likely in Arkansas acres grown.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is surveying farmers to learn what their planting intentions are for 2012. Its prospective plantings report will be released March 30.

"Growers that have a few years' experience with corn say it's much easier to manage than cotton," Stiles said.

The economist said that Arkansas farmers may be seeing big dollar signs, thinking "the mild winter may be a precursor to heavy insect pressure in cotton. Our budgets given today's prices favor corn over competing crops.

"Corn may also be picking up acres as a result of pigweed resistance," Stiles added. For decades there has been a broader array of herbicides for corn than cotton.

Stiles said there are indications from agronomists, agents and seed vendors that "we'll exceed the 2007 modern-day high for corn acres in the state."

If the state hits 650,000 acres, "this year will be the first time since 1940 that corn acres exceeded cotton acres in Arkansas," he added.

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