Cotton gins disappearing as acreage decreases in Arkansas

AP News
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Posted: May 22, 2016 1:41 PM

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Cotton gins are disappearing as Arkansas farmers abandon cotton for more profitable crops.

The number of gins in the state has fallen from 86 to 26 in the past 15 years, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Sunday (http://bit.ly/1YOHDe9 ). Nine gins closed in Arkansas in 2014 alone, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The upkeep is expensive, said Terry Holland, a farmer who has grown cotton for about 30 years, and many gin owners found it wasn't worth it to modernize the needed infrastructure and implements.

This year, an estimated 9.56 million acres of cotton was to be planted in the U.S. — 11 percent more than last year, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But Arkansas' acreage has slipped significantly: About 1 million acres of cotton were planted in Arkansas in 2000, but has fallen to a projected 330,000 acres for 2016, the USDA said.

"The state's cotton industry has never seen an extended period of acreage reduction quite like we've seen since 2000," said Scott Stiles, extension economist for the University of Arkansas System's Agriculture Division.

Holland says he can recall a time when there were 15 to 16 cotton gins in eastern Clay County.

"Now there's one," Holland said.

Farmers now plant crops that can boost their bottom lines, such as soybeans, in the fields that once grew cotton.

"We saw the prices go up in other commodities," said Nathan Reed, a row-crop farmer in the Arkansas Delta. "Not so in cotton."

Cotton is expensive to grow, Reed said. The equipment and infrastructure is specialized, and that can require a lot of money upfront. A cotton picker will cost a farmer around $700,000, he said. Unlike combines that can be used for various types of crops, cotton pickers are only used for cotton production.

"It takes a whole different set of machinery to grow cotton," Reed said. "A lot of farmers sold their old pickers and didn't make the investment in a new one."

Reed said it takes about 2,000 acres of cotton to make the investment profitable.

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com