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Cotton crop falls below previous year

Posted on January 6, 2021

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St. Louis Rigobert of Wilson pulls cotton samples from the last cotton bale to be cleaned Dec. 29 at the Silver Lake Growers Cotton Gin on N.C. 58 outside Elm City.

Drew C. Wilson | Times

St. Louis Rigobert of Wilson pulls cotton samples from the last cotton bale to be cleaned Dec. 29 at the Silver Lake Growers Cotton Gin on N.C. 58 outside Elm City.

Juan Lopez of Wilson uses a blower to coax cotton bolls into the Silver Lake Growers Cotton Gin on Dec. 29 as the last of the area's cotton is ginned for 2020.

Drew C. Wilson | Times

Juan Lopez of Wilson uses a blower to coax cotton bolls into the Silver Lake Growers Cotton Gin on Dec. 29 as the last of the area's cotton is ginned for 2020.

St. Louis Rigobert of Wilson pulls cotton samples from the last cotton bale to be cleaned Dec. 29 at the Silver Lake Growers Cotton Gin on N.C. 58 outside Elm City.

Drew C. Wilson | Times

St. Louis Rigobert of Wilson pulls cotton samples from the last cotton bale to be cleaned Dec. 29 at the Silver Lake Growers Cotton Gin on N.C. 58 outside Elm City.

Juan Lopez of Wilson uses a blower to coax cotton bolls into the Silver Lake Growers Cotton Gin on Dec. 29 as the last of the area's cotton is ginned for 2020.

Drew C. Wilson | Times

Juan Lopez of Wilson uses a blower to coax cotton bolls into the Silver Lake Growers Cotton Gin on Dec. 29 as the last of the area's cotton is ginned for 2020.

dwilson@wilsontimes.com | 252-265-7818

ELM CITY — The Silver Lake Growers Cotton Gin ended the year with 14,000 bales of lint. That mark is well below the 38,000 bales ginned in 2019.

“It was not a good year at all,” said Donald Smith, manager at the gin, located on N.C. 58 outside Elm City at the Wilson-Nash county line.

The gin cleans cotton for farmers from many eastern counties, chief among them Wilson and Nash.

Early in the year, the price of cotton “wasn’t great, but it was headed in a positive direction,” Smith said. “Prior to planting season, coronavirus came along, and the price of cotton dropped from 72 to 58 cents (per pound)”

Smith said the prices have had a slow recovery.

“We have people who have planted cotton for 25 years that didn’t plant any cotton at all,” Smith said.

Norman Harrell, director of the N.C. Cooperative Extension office in Wilson County, said low production and yield totals reflect the number of bales ginned at Silver Lake.

“The weather in 2020 has been less than ideal to grow cotton in,” Harrell said. “We had a really cool spring. Cotton is a tropical plant, and it just grew really slowly in the spring. Farmers were delayed in planting their crop, so that pushed that crop to be late, and then we had some dry weather in the summer and it followed up with all the rain in the fall. We had an event where parts of the county got up to 12 inches of rain, and that was just very detrimental to the cotton crop. It caused the cotton to fall out of the bolls. It could cause boll rot.”

The drop in cotton prices added insult to injury.

“Especially when you look at the income for the county, low prices plus reduced acres plus reduced yield is really a big reduction in cotton income for the county, and it’s a shame because we’ve got great soils to grow cotton and we have certainly got the farmer know-how to grow cotton, so it is just another example of how we are dealing with Mother Nature,” Harrell said.

Smith said the cotton’s quality wasn’t bad. 

“It just wasn’t enough of it,” Smith said. 

In 2020, the gin constructed a new storage building to store the baled cotton.

“We put up a bale storage this year. Any commodity that you store, you can put yourself in a better position for marketing,” Smith said. “That building will hold 13,000 bales of cotton. It is a starting point with us. We are seeing some promising signs of some upward movement, but it is still nowhere near where it needs to be at for these guys to get back into the game.”

Smith said it’s hard to predict the coming year in cotton.

“It could be just as bad as this one,” Smith said. “The price of soybeans has gone up. Consequently, there will be some more acres of beans in the ground. It’s a very pessimistic time in the cotton industry today. It was just not a very good year. We just hope for better next year.” 

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