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With hay, alfalfa prices down, cotton production ticks up in Arizona

As farmers see hay and alfalfa prices tanking, cotton production in Arizona is expected to rise by 4 percent this year, industry experts say.

“And I expect to see the same things next year because they can make money off cotton,” said Rick Lavis, executive vice president of the Arizona Cotton Growers Association.

In all, Arizona is expected to produce 422,700 bales of cotton this year, according to the Phoenix field office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The office estimated that 6,500 more acres have been devoted to cotton this year, bringing the total to about 140,000 acres.

Lavis said he thinks the state could see 40,000 more acres devoted to cotton next year.

Arizona produces about 3 percent of the nation’s cotton.

Estimates from the statistics service show Arizona’s cotton yield decreasing by 10 pounds per bale this year. However, the state’s overall expected yield of 1,446 pounds per acre is almost double the U.S. average and has increased from about 1,156 pounds per acre in 1998.

George Frisvold, professor of agriculture and resources economics at the University of Arizona, said biotechnology, new chemical compounds for more targeted insecticide and improved seed varieties have helped the cotton yield here.

“The numbers bounce up and down because of pests and diseases, so it’s kind of deceptive to to just pick two years,” he said.

In recent years, Arizona farmers have significantly reduced overall cotton acreage due to a loss of farmland to development and low cotton prices, according to Mike Whitlow, program coordinator for the Arizona Cotton Research and Protection Council.

“We’re probably some of the higher yielders as compared to the nation. The difference is on an acreage basis – we could go away and nobody would know we left,” he said.

Whitlow noted that Georgia and Texas each have more than 1 million acres devoted to cotton.

Each season is a gamble for farmers deciding what to plant or if the fields should go fallow. Whatever looks like it might sell the best is what gets planted, and farmers will substitute their acreage between crops depending on what price they expect to fetch.

One of Arizona’s traditional “5 C’s” along with copper, cattle, citrus and climate, cotton probably will remain a force in Arizona’s economy for some time, said Russell Tronstad, a specialist at the UA’s Arizona Cooperative Extension.

“There’s still a lot of land out there. Cotton is one of those crops that’s hearty,” he said. “While it’s all relative to other commodity prices – wheat, sorghum – there’s still a role for cotton.”

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