The biggest challenge Georgia cotton farmers face is making a profit, says the new University of Georgia Cooperative Extension cotton agronomist.
Jared Whitaker officially begins his new post Dec. 1 and will be based in Tifton, Georgia.
“Cotton prices have remained far below the levels most producers yearn for. Even if prices improve, management practices continue to be evaluated as new products and issues continue to arise,” Whitaker said.
Whitaker’s transition into his new role is unique. He has been with UGA as an Extension agronomist in east Georgia since 2009, working with cotton in the area and with soybeans across Georgia.
His new role focuses solely on cotton. As leader of the UGA Cotton Team, his job will be to keep Georgia producers as informed as possible and to improve production statewide.
“We’ve seen cotton acres diminish in other states while Georgia acres remain relatively stable. In order to keep Georgia production strong, UGA’s role will be to help growers make good decisions, try to keep cotton as profitable as it has been and keep it competitive with other crops,” Whitaker said.
According to the UGA Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, cotton netted $964 million in farm gate value in 2014, accounting for nearly 40 percent of row crops.
“Prices could be a lot better, and since cotton is a global crop, it’s always difficult for us in Georgia to understand and predict what prices will do and how to deal with fluctuations,” he said.
Laura Perry Johnson, UGA associate dean for Extension, said hiring Whitaker should boost the state’s cotton industry.
“Cotton is one of the largest and most dynamic industries in Georgia and is incredibly important to the economy of Georgia,” said Johnson, who grew up on a diversified farm in Moultrie, Georgia. “We are very excited to have filled this position and look forward to the great work Dr. Whitaker will do researching issues and solving problems related to cotton production and sharing that information with county Extension agents and producers that can use the information to be more productive and more profitable.”
Georgia cotton farmers began harvesting this year’s crop several weeks ago and will continue to do so into the fall.
“I think the past couple of weeks have been really good as far as getting a portion of the crop out of the field. Harvest has slowed due to the remnants of Hurricane Patricia, but hopefully it will pick back up late this week,” Whitaker said. He said the El Nino weather pattern could cause some delays in November, but he hopes for “some more good harvest weather” so farmers can get the cotton out of the fields as quickly as possible.
“Although prices are down, much of the cotton picked so far has produced some yields that have growers pleasantly surprised, and that is some good news we need more of, he said.