You've reached the Virginia Cooperative Extension Newsletter Archive. These files cover more than ten years of newsletters posted on our old website (through April/May 2009), and are provided for historical purposes only. As such, they may contain out-of-date references and broken links.

To see our latest newsletters and current information, visit our website at

Newsletter Archive index:

Virginia Cooperative Extension -
        Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Implications of Increasing Cotton Acreage in Virginia: A Case Study of Southampton County

Farm Management Update, April 1996

By Dixie Watts Reaves and Wes Alexander

In the previous issue, results of a Southampton County case study were presented in terms of producer justification for increasing cotton acreage. In this article, the implications of this increase will be presented in terms of the research and training needs identified by the respondents. At a time when higher education in general, and Cooperative Extension in particular, are trying to operate with a shrinking financial resource base, knowledge of producers' perceived research and training needs can assist in the allocation of scarce resources to competing educational needs.

In the national cotton picture, Virginia's role remains a small one. In 1994, Virginia ranked 15th out of 17 cotton producing states, contributing just 0.42 percent of the nation's cotton (VASS,1995). Even so, cotton has become a critically important agricultural commodity to the Commonwealth and the dramatic increase in production has repercussions both for Virginia producers and for the system attempting to support those producers.

In a Southampton County case study of 77 cotton producers, respondents were asked to identify their primary information sources and their most pressing research and training needs. The results are summarized below.

Producers were given the opportunity to check all sources that they utilized for planning and developing cotton farming activities. Table 1 lists the percentage of producers stating each source. It is interesting to note that the faculty and staff at North Carolina State University have been utilized more than those at Virginia Tech. However, North Carolina has more of a history of cotton production than does Virginia. Furthermore, Southeastern Virginia is geographically closer to N.C. State than to Virginia Tech.

Table 1. Information sources utilized by cotton producers

Percentage utilizing the source
Other cotton farmers 75
Cotton gin employees 60
Extension agent 55
Paid consultant 36
Magazines 34
North Carolina State University faculty/staff 33
Virginia Tech faculty/staff 19
Other people in the business 19
Cotton Council activities 15

The gin plays a valuable role to respondents in terms of providing marketing information. Producers were asked to check all sources of marketing information that they utilized. Eighty-two percent utilize employees of their gin, 56% their extension agent, 45% other farmers, 40% Cotton Council publications, 28% N.C. State specialists, and 27% Virginia Tech specialists. Generally, producers were fairly satisfied with the services provided by their gins. When asked if they were satisfied with the timing of module pick-up, 56% said yes. Fifty-two percent were satisfied with the timing of their ginning, while 56% were satisfied with the timing of receipt of sample test/grade results. On a scale of 1 to 4, with 1 being poor and 4 being excellent, gins ranked highest in the services of module provision and educational programs. They ranked lowest in seed sales. Over half of the respondents had no suggestions for improved services by their gin. Of those with suggestions for improvement, faster settlement, faster module pick-up, faster ginning, and better handling (less cotton left in the field) were the most common suggestions for improvement.

Producers were asked if financial stress was a factor in their decision to start growing cotton. Thirty-six percent said that financial stress was not a factor, while 46% said it was somewhat of a factor, and 19% said it was a major factor. Fifty-three percent of respondents obtained a loan to help them establish their cotton farming activities.

Fifty-nine percent of respondents reported that they farmed with someone else, either in a partnership or a corporation. Father/son partnerships were common, as were partnerships between brothers. Thirty-seven percent own a cotton picker, either alone (30%) or with someone else (7%). Of those who do not own a picker, 70% have been satisfied with the timing of their cotton harvest, although getting cotton picked in a timely manner was one of the problem areas stated by producers.

When asked what types of cotton research they would be most interested in, respondents gave the highest rankings to new herbicides, new insecticides, and management and marketing research. They were less interested in new varieties and no-till cotton. In terms of training needs, producers were most interested in management and marketing educational programs, scouting, and updates on the cotton program. Ninety percent of producers conduct scouting activities, with sixty percent of those hiring someone to do the scouting. Respondents were less interested in product and variety updates and programs to assist in understanding gin sheets. Twenty-six percent stated that they had a full understanding of their gin contract, while 52% had a fairly good understanding. Fourteen percent found parts of their contract confusing.

When given an open-ended question about the most critical problems they had faced in their cotton farming activities, the most frequent response was timing of harvest. Many also stated that the timing of many cotton activities coincided exactly with peanut farming activities, thus causing time-management problems. Weeds and grass were commonly stated problems. Weather was considered to be a critical problem. The need for direct sprays and the timing of plant growth regulators and defoliants were also considered to be critical problems. Given the opportunity to choose three factors that are critical to the success of cotton farming operations, marketing and production skills were the most important factors. Table 2 gives the six most common responses.

Table 2: Factors that determine the success of cotton farming activities

Percent of respondents choosing the factor
Marketing skills 58
Production skills 43
Land quality 39
Business management skills 35
Location of the market 35
Financial resources 32

Conclusions Producers have expressed areas that they would like to see cotton research conducted: herbicides, insecticides, and management and marketing. They have identified other problem areas in terms of the timing of the application of plant growth regulators and defoliants, and the timing of harvest. Virginia's producers have turned to North Carolina State University specialists for expertise in the past, more so than to Virginia Tech specialists. Virginia producers have made a commitment to cotton, and it certainly has implications for the demands made on the existing support system for agriculture in the Commonwealth. While there are a number of individual research and extension personnel who have committed to supporting the cotton industry, Virginia's land grant institution must decide if it will make a commitment to provide a larger share of resources to address the concerns of this growing agricultural industry in Virginia. References Virginia Agricultural Statistics Service. 1995. Virginia Agricultural Statistics, 1994 Annual Bulletin.

Visit Virginia Cooperative Extension