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Delta Cotton Growers Suffer As Others Take Slices Of Market

October 9, 1985

ROLLING FORK, Miss. (AP) _ Rives Carter and his Delta neighbors say growing a profitable cotton crop is like trying to complete a puzzle without all the pieces.

″Last year, the rains got us,″ said Carter. ″This year, we’ve had a beautiful fall, good yields and the grade is better - and we’re still in the position of fighting to survive.″

Prices are down and countries that once imported U.S. cotton are now growing their own.

″At one time it was only us. I, for one, don’t have a solution,″ said Carter, whose Allied Growers partnership has harvested about 90 percent of its cotton on 2,300 acres.

″The story is simple - good crop, poor prices,″ said Hugh Avant,a Ruleville producer who is also president of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation.

Mississippi’s 1985 cotton crop is estimated at 1.7 million bales, up from the 1.65 million bales last year. Nationally, production is placed at 13.7 million bales, compared with 13 million bales in 1984. Agriculture experts report an all-time high average yield per acre of 632 pounds.

″The thing that is hurting us in cotton is high production figures and large cotton stocks in foreign countries,″ said Bob Williams, head of the agriculture economy division of the Mississippi Cooperative Extension Service.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture ″estimates mill use in this country in the coming market year will be about 5.4 million bales, down from 5.5 last year,″ Williams said.

″That’s not much of a change, but when you look at U.S. exports you see USDA is showing 4 million bales to be exported versus 6.2 million last year - that’s where we are hurting.″

Excess cotton is stockpiled by the federal government under a price support program.

Williams said U.S. farmers no longer dominate world cotton production, thanks in part to improved farming technology overseas and ″major changes in philosophy in foreign countries.

″In China, for example, they are striving for a larger agricultural output and cotton just happens to be one enterprise they can produce and produce fairly successfully.″

In 1984, China had a cotton crop of almost 29 million bales, up almost 8 million bales from the previous year. Pakistan’s 1984 yield was 4.6 million as compared to 2.2 million bales in 1983. The Soviet Union’s production also has increased.

″It’s this type of production that is causing problems worldwide,″ said Williams. ″We’ve seen pretty sharp increases in a number of foreign countries and, consequently, countries that were importing cotton from us are not doing that and some have become exporters themselves.″

Last year the market price started out at about 75 to 76 cents a pound, Williams said, but then ″we had the rains and prices dropped all the way down to 45 cents a pound because of low quality.″

Now cotton prices are hovering near the federal loan level of 57.3 cents a pound.

The loan program guarantees participating farmers a set price for their cotton. If prices climb above the loan price, farmers may sell their crop at the higher price and repay the loan at the lower level.

Williams said that without federal supports, farmers would find it difficult to break even at the 56 to 57 cent level.

Carter said that despite the industry’s problems, most longtime cotton farmers ″are pretty well committed to cotton.″

″It’s simple,″ he said. ″We’ve got too much invested to go wandering off.″

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