Missouri’s cotton acreage

Missouri’s cotton acreage has been rising in recent years due to improving economics, although there are some unknowns for this year. 

Despite only growing the crops in the southeast part of the state, last year Missouri ranked fourth in rice acreage and ninth in cotton acreage nationally.

Even with some global market uncertainty as planting season inches closer, experts and farmers say those acreages could be increasing.

David Reinbott, a University of Missouri ag business specialist based in Scott County, says cotton and rice acres have been increasing in recent years.

“I think we’re seeing the acreage go up in cotton,” he says. “Cotton had a rally a few years ago. Rice has been up a little as well.”

Reinbott says Missouri will likely be part of the expected national trend of more rice acres.

“I know nationally they’re expecting an uptick in rice acreage, and I’d expect Missouri to be a part of that,” he says.

Will Spargo farms in Butler and Ripley counties in southeast Missouri. He is still considering exactly how much rice to plant.

“The price for rice is up compared to this time last year, which is good,” he says. “It is my fear though that there will be too much rice planted because of that fact, and it will drive the price down. We are weighing our options regarding what to plant based on expected costs and potential returns.”

Overall, Spargo is still expecting he’ll plant more rice than last year, in part due to the wet spring of 2019.

“I do believe that rice acres on our farm will be up compared to last year, but then again we did prevent plant 40% of our acres last year,” he says.

Reinbott says farmers will be hoping for good weather around late April and early May to get the crops planted.

“Most crops, the earlier you can plant, the better,” he says.

According to the USDA annual crop production report, in 2019 Missouri had 380,000 acres of cotton planted, up from 325,000 in 2018 and 305,000 in 2017.

Last year, with some delayed and prevent planting, Missouri farmers planted 187,000 acres of rice, down from 224,000 in 2018 but more than the 169,000 acres of rice in 2017.

Rice and cotton have been making advancements in yields.

“It’s interesting, the average rice yield 10 years ago was 145-150 (bushels per acre),” Reinbott says. “Now it’s pushing closer to 170. For a really good yield, farmers want 200.”

He says cotton average yields have pushed up to 1,300 to 1,400 pounds per acre.

Reinbott credits advances in technology and the availability of irrigation in southeast Missouri for the yield progress.

“It’s varieties, hybrids, in all crops,” he says. “You put in good weather, plus we have the ability to irrigate it.”

Last year saw a wet spring in southeast Missouri, meaning planting delays or prevent planting, but better conditions later in the growing season helped turn it into a decent year.

“Surprisingly, it wasn’t too bad,” Reinbott says. “It bounced back, maybe not record breaking, but it came back for a good average yield.”

In the Bootheel region, he says most farmers go with some version of a soybean and rice rotation on their heavier, wetter soils, and then cotton is often rotated with corn, with maybe double-crop wheat and soybeans mixed in. While most farmers have a set rotation, they can make adjustments based on crop prices, Reinbott says.

Cotton and rice have had some reasons for optimism, including lower U.S. year-end stocks of rice, but the ongoing coronavirus situation has raised concerns about global markets and the overall global economy.

“The coronavirus has really thrown everyone for a loop,”

Reinbott says. “A lot of cotton demand is based on GDP growth. It could slow down demand of cotton growth worldwide. Growth in disposable income means buying more cotton.”

The virus has, for now, slowed the rally in rice as traders try to sort out the situation.

“Rice had a nice rally the last few months, but this virus has sort of put a lid on it for now,” Reinbott says. “Just the uncertainty of it all.”

He expects farmers to look to do a lot of marketing for their cotton and rice, and other crops, during the springtime.

“Most farmers are usually looking to do some marketing in that March-April-May-early June window,” he says. “There might be a marketing opportunity in that window.”

Ben Herrold is Missouri field editor, writing for Missouri Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.