If you think cotton is growing everywhere in Bulloch County, you would be right. This year is turning into a record setting one for local farmers who have planted more than 52,000 acres in cotton this season.
"Bulloch County has more acreage in cotton than any of the surrounding counties by far," said Gay Harris, director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in Bulloch County. "The records that I have go back about 25 years, and this is most cotton that has been planted at any point during that time."
In what is being called the perfect storm by many in the agricultural industry, the price of cotton has risen dramatically over the last several months reaching record highs $1.5195 per pound as production of cotton in other parts of the world dropped substantially due to weather conditions while worldwide demand for the commodity increased.
Local farmers admit that when they chose to "book" the sale of this fall's crop last winter and spring, they had no idea the price of the commodity would reach record levels.
"I planted 2,175 acres in cotton this year, because I could get a good price for it to begin with," said local farmer Kevin Deal. "Initially, I contracted to sell 2,000 bales at $.75 per pound. I was worried with the weather over the summer that I wouldn't be able to make that contract, but my production is one and a half times what I thought it would be, so I will have excess to take to the market at a higher price."
County Agent Wes Harris said this year is really unique.
"Normally, when you have tremendous yields like we are having now, the price is relatively low," he said. "This year however, yields are very high, and so is the price."
Harris said he hopes that farmers will average 1,000 pounds of lint (ginned cotton) per acre, which will about a 250-pound increase in the average yield over the last several years.
"If you look at the amount of cotton that we expect will be produced here in Bulloch County, and the price that it will sell for, we are looking at perhaps a $50 million impact from one crop alone," he said. "In the past several years, the impact has been around $28 to $30 million. That's a big difference."
With all the cotton that is being harvested, local cotton gins are working around the clock to process as much as they possibly can, as quickly as they can. Paul Richardson, general manager of Southern States' cotton gin in Statesboro, said they have been ginning seven days a week, 24 hours a day for the last few weeks.
"We started in September this year, which is a little early," he said. "We have only gotten busier and busier. We gin cotton from 13 counties, and we are way behind picking up the cotton out of the fields. We simply don't have enough trucks, but we have some more trucks coming to help us from North Carolina so that should be a big help."
Richardson said his operation can process 50 bales an hour, and that there are typically 14 to 15 bales of cotton in a cotton module which is the large rectangle of harvested cotton that most people see in the fields.
"This is the most cotton that we have ever ginned, and I have been here since 1995," he said. "This summer, we thought we wouldn't have a very good crop, but cotton is one of those plants that will just sit and wait for a good rain, and we got one at the end of August. At that point it just took off, resulting in a bumper crop. The timing couldn't have been better."
Harris said as good as things may seem today, weather is always the dictator.
"Climatologists said last week that they felt our area would be subject to drought like conditions next year," he said. "If that is the case, then farming could be very tough. Farmers are very conservative by nature, so I am sure that they will take the proceeds from this yield and be judicious with them, as it looks like next year could be a challenging one."
Deal said at this point, he intends to plant all 3,000 of his acres in cotton next year.
"From what I am hearing, we will be able to contract our cotton out at a good price again next year," he said. "If that is the case, then I will plant more cotton than I did this year. We will have to see."
Richardson said he hopes to be through ginning this year's harvest by the first of next February.
"I would like to think that we will be done, but who knows," he said. "We are working as hard as we can. What can I say, it is just a tremendous crop."
For the next few weeks you can find Deal harvesting his crop throughout the day and well into the night.
"If you see some big headlights out in a cotton field in the south end of the county, it might be me."