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Arkansas rains dampen finish of otherwise decent cotton year

Persistent rain as the cotton harvest was winding down in late October put a damper on an otherwise decent year for Arkansas cotton producers, according to Tom Barber, assistant professor/cotton specialist with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

Even with the delay, farmers had harvested 93 percent of the 850,000-acre cotton crop by Nov. 4, well ahead of the five-year average of 78 percent.

For the week ending Oct. 27, about 15 percent to 20 percent of the 850,000-acre crop was still in the field, mostly in southern Arkansas, as farmers waited for the rains to stop and fields to dry.

The Arkansas Agricultural Statistics Service is forecasting farmers will pick a statewide average of about 1,045 pounds of lint per acre. “Before the rain, we had a chance of beating that,” Barber said.

The state record is 1,112 pounds per acre, set in 2004. Since that time, cotton farmers have averaged more than 1,000 pounds a year.

“The picking has gone really well, and we're hearing some excellent yields, especially around Marianna and up north to Mississippi and Clay counties, where the crop matured quickly. When you get down to the southeast, where we had plant bug problems early and had to spray multiple times, our yields tend to be off 100 to 200 pounds.”

Barber estimated yields in non-irrigated situations would be around about a bale and a half, or 600 to 720 pounds of lint per acre, which will bring the overall state average down.

“If we were just looking at irrigated cotton, I think the state average would easily be over 1,100 pounds, about two and a quarter bales. About 80-85 percent of Arkansas cotton acreage is irrigated.”

This year's cotton was hurt by an August heat wave. The crop in northern Arkansas fared well during that time because much of it had already matured. But in southern Arkansas, the crop was later, and the heat hit when the upper part of the plants weren't as mature.

“With the high costs for fuel, nitrogen fertilizer and other inputs, we need all the pounds of lint we can get.”

The overall quality of this year's crop was satisfactory, but the rain hurt the crop remaining in the fields. “The rain hurt us in a lot of ways. Some of the first cotton we picked came back with light spot — a quality issue — probably mostly related to the rain. The quality is probably going down for the remaining crop that was caught by the rain.”

Rain can cause locked bolls, making picking difficult, and can reduce yields. It can also cause cotton to come out of the boll and become stringy and discolored.

After the heat wave ended, the crop experienced regrowth in September from favorable growing conditions, Barber noted. In some cases, farmers sprayed multiple times to control regrowth after initial defoliation. If a crop isn't defoliated before picking, green leaves can stain the lint, causing bales to be discounted.

A little more than 92 percent of the 2007 crop was planted in Bt varieties.

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