Plot a Course for Cotton Texas

The path to success is marked by a drive for diversification and making the most of an operation's unique advantages.

Andrew Miller (Progressive Farmer image by Eddie Seal)

ODEM, TEXAS. A custom-harvesting business helped Andrew Miller through the early years of farming. Today, it remains a vital bridge to opportunity through technology.

Miller, who farms cotton and grain sorghum, says it's the custom side of his business that allows him to keep the operation's equipment current. He trades harvesters yearly, tractors and sprayers every two years.

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"We believe we are getting increased efficiencies across the board," he says, noting for the new season, he will be using John Deere's signal share system, as well as high-speed planters that will run at 10 mph.

"These could be game changers for us," he says. "If the planter works like they say, it will mean we can go down from three to two units. And, signal share should help us better manage what is going on between fields with our precision technologies."

As Miller wrapped up the 2019 season, he was looking at record yields on grain sorghum and his second-best yields ever on dryland cotton. He continues to tweak production practices across the farm, focusing on technologies that he believes will let them gain in efficiencies.

"The constant challenge is how to farm the same land and do it with less," he says. "It's how we compete in the future."

Market uncertainties, he says, add to the importance of controlling as many variables as possible. "We sold some cotton earlier in the season, and I wish we'd sold more, because the price dropped 15 to 20 cents a pound after," he says. "We have grain sorghum in the bin waiting for the right time to sell. In this environment, you have to try to control what you can. It all comes back to efficiency. That's the game changer."

Cotton Outlook 2020 from DTN Analyst Todd Hultman:

> DOWNHILL SLIDE

The three big hurricanes of 2017 -- Harvey, Irma and Maria -- helped spot cotton prices hit a peak of 96.50 cents in June 2018. It has been all downhill since. USDA raised U.S. ending cotton stocks to 7.2 million bales for the 2019-20 season. That pressured prices to trade near their lowest level in three years. Noncommercial traders (speculators) have turned net short for the first time since spring 2016, essentially betting prices are going to go lower.

> OPPORTUNITIES FOR A JUMP-START

U.S. cotton exports have been limited by the trade dispute with China. This commodity's seasonal pattern suggests July cotton prices tend to peak in early June. With cotton supplies plentiful, it may be a challenge to get July futures any higher than 72 cents a pound in early 2020. If trade were restored, prices could have a chance to go as high as 78 cents per pound.

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