You Asked: How many cotton farms are there in Suffolk?

Published 10:02 pm Tuesday, February 18, 2020

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Editor’s Note: “You Asked” is a new feature that will run every other week, answering questions that readers have posed. You can submit your questions by emailing

In Suffolk and the surrounding localities, cotton is a very important crop, according to Elizabeth Pittman, the agriculture and natural resources extension agent for the city of Suffolk.

The crop was baled by the hundreds of thousands across the state last year. According to a Tuesday email from Pittman, 229,644 bales of cotton were ginned in Virginia in 2019.

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A Suffolk reader recently asked how many cotton farms there are in Suffolk, and according to Pittman, the last reported upland cotton acreage for Suffolk was 16,093 acres in 2019. Pittman didn’t know exactly how many farms in Suffolk produced cotton in 2019.

“Our farmers take pride in the excellent quality of cotton that is produced in our area as well as the several cotton gins that service southeastern Virginia and portions of northeastern North Carolina,” Pittman wrote.

The total acreage in the past few years has increased, according to Pittman, but there is potential for 2020 acreage to decrease, based on preliminary surveys.

This is due to a drastic drop in cotton prices over the past year. Higher prices in 2018 encouraged many growers to increase their acreage, only for the prices to drop drastically in 2019, Pittman wrote.

This price drop was primarily because of the tariffs, trade issues and deals that U.S. faced with China and other countries.

“Many farmers in our area saw almost record yields with their 2019 harvest that helped to alleviate the strain of the low pricing,” Pittman wrote. “To illustrate this further, farmers were getting 15 to 20 cents a pound more for their crop in 2018 than 2019.”

Suffolk farmer Shelley Barlow with Cotton Plains Farm confirmed that the acreage of cotton grown at the Barlow farm has increased each year since the mid-1990s, going from basically zero percent of the Barlow’s total acreage of crops in the early 1990s to 60 percent of the farm’s total acreage last year.

“It has gone from something that we didn’t grow any of, to the main thing that we grow, in about 25 years,” Barlow said.

Barlow also said that it’s been a “very frustrating situation” with the trade negotiations between the U.S. and its trade partners abroad. The market is uncertain right now for cotton and other crops, and that uncertainty has been compounded by the issues that have arisen from the Coronavirus.

“I think the reality is we need something more stable,” Barlow said, with so much uncertainty in the market and no steady upward progress in price in recent years. “We need that. We need to know the rules of the game we’re playing, I guess.”