Farmers choose cotton over food crops

From William Neuman in the New York Times:

“SPEARMAN, Tex. — Tight supplies of corn, soybeans and wheat have sent prices skyrocketing in the last year, prompting worries of a looming global food crisis.

In other years, American farmers have responded to high prices by devoting more land to staple food crops.

But this spring, many farmers in southern states will be planting cotton in ground where they used to grow corn, soybeans or wheat — spurred on by cotton prices that have soared as clothing makers clamor for more and poor harvests crimp supply.

The result is an acreage war between rival commodities used to feed and clothe the world’s population.

“There’s a lot more money to be made in cotton right now,” said Ramon Vela, a farmer here in the Texas Panhandle, as he stood in a field where he grew wheat last year, its stubble now plowed under to make way for cotton. Around the first week of May, Mr. Vela, 37, will plant 1,100 acres of cotton, up from 210 acres a year ago. “The prices are the big thing,” he said. “That’s the driving force.”

Economists, agricultural experts and government officials are predicting that many farmers, both in the United States and abroad, will join Mr. Vela this year in chasing the higher profits to be made in cotton — with consequences that could ripple across the globe.

“It’s good for the farmer, but from a humanitarian perspective it’s kind of scary,” said Webb Wallace, executive director of the Cotton and Grain Producers of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. “Those people in poor countries that have a hard time affording food, they’re going to be even less able to afford it now.”…”

Read it all in the New York Times.

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