Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Southern farmers forsake food crops for cotton, despite growing global need for food

With worries of a global food crisis rising, farmers may be setting up an acreage war between crops used to feed and clothe the world's population as many plant "cotton in ground where they used to grow corn, soybeans or wheat," William Neuman of The New York Times reports. This change has been "spurred on by cotton prices that have soared as clothing makers clamor for more and poor harvests crimp supply," Nueman writes. (NYT photo by Matt Nager)

"There’s a lot more money to be made in cotton right now," Ramon Vela, a Texas Panhandle farmer, told Neuman. "The prices are the big thing. That’s the driving force." Webb Wallace, executive director of the Cotton and Grain Producers of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, says the decision to follow the money behind cotton may have big implications. "It’s good for the farmer, but from a humanitarian perspective it’s kind of scary," he told Neuman. "Those people in poor countries that have a hard time affording food, they’re going to be even less able to afford it now."

In the middle of the last decade, as food prices rose and cotton prices remained low, many farmers switched from cotton to grains and other food crops, and corn production has been on the rise in recent years as ethanol demand helped drive up corn prices, Neuman writes. "This year, cotton prices are the highest they have been in years, luring farmers despite strong prices for other crops,." The Agriculture Department predicts Southern farmers will plant 12.8 million acres of upland cotton, a 19 percent increase from last year. The National Cotton Council expects substantial increases in all cotton-producing states, including large jumps in North Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. (Read more)

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