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Cotton producers need sunny weather to finish harvest

Round modules rise out of the fog like a Halloween apparition at Tanner Gin Co near Frogmore La This photo was taken about midway through the Louisiana cotton harvest
<p>Round modules rise out of the fog like a Halloween apparition at Tanner Gin Co., near Frogmore, La. This photo was taken about midway through the Louisiana cotton harvest.</p>
The 2014 cotton crop was late getting started, and harvest has been delayed due to severe weather. But with open weather over the next few weeks, producers should be able to wrap up picking quickly.

Despite the excesses of rain, hail and wind causing varying degrees of damage to yields and grower pocketbooks, Mid-South cotton producers are managing decent cotton yields on average. With a couple of weeks of sunny weather, harvest could wrap up quickly in most states. Here’s a state-by-state wrap up.


Louisiana cotton harvest was about 60 percent to 70 percent complete on Oct. 20, and could be complete by early November with clear skies, according to Dan Fromme, Extension cotton specialist, LSU AgCenter. “I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we don’t get any rain.”

Cotton yields are looking good across the state, Fromme said, “but I don’t think the crop will be as good as last year, which was a record crop for Louisiana. But it still has the potential to be the second or third best crop on record.”

Fromme said good yields were due to timely rainfall and light insect pressure. “We have to give credit to good genetics, too, which is just getting better and better.”

Cotton in two parishes, Point Coupee and Avoyelles, were exceptions, according to Fromme. “The crops in those areas received way too much rain.”

Fromme said fiber properties including length, strength and uniformity are comparable to past years. This year, only about 25 percent of classed bales are running 5.0 or higher in micronaire in Louisiana, compared to 55 percent last season.


Arkansas cotton producers could be parking pickers by the end of October if the weather cooperates, said Bill Robertson, Extension cotton specialist for the state.  The northeast part of the state is about 40 percent picked, the central east region about 70 percent to 80 percent. Southeast Arkansas producers were expected to wrap up planting by the last week in October.

“We had only had 314,000 acres of cotton this year,” Robertson said. “It doesn’t take long to plant it, and it doesn’t take long to pick it, especially with onboard module pickers which can get acres picked in no time.”

Robertson says the season has been one of weather extremes. About 40,000 acres in Mississippi and Craighead counties were hit hard by a hailstorm on Oct. 7, but Robertson noted that other cotton took a hit from excessive rainfall.

Most of the state’s cotton went through one or two cold spells after planting, which was followed by big rains. “We had a very unusual July, with good moisture, and we did not have high nighttime temperatures.

“But the way it started, the plants really didn’t generate a normal root system, so we were seeing a lot of nutrient deficiencies, especially potassium.”

Still, the crop was looking better than Robertson would have thought, until the hailstorm and late rains “brought us down a notch.”

Southeast Missouri

“I haven’t heard much on yields, but I’ve seen some really good fields, which could probably go two-and-three-quarters to 3 bales,” said Mike Milam, cotton agronomy specialist for Dunklin and Pemiscot counties in southeast Missouri.

“But I’ve also seen some cotton that’s not so good. USDA has is pegged at about 1,087 pounds, but we’ve had a lot of severe storms and wind. Some of the cotton is on the ground, but I’m just not sure how much yet.”

Milam said growers in the region were about 35 percent to 40 percent harvested by Oct. 20.


A record-setting, wet June coupled with moderate daytime temperatures and a few cool nights early, held back cotton development in many areas of west Tennessee, according to Tyson Raper, Extension cotton specialist for the state. The rains, “kept a few producers out of the field and in some situations prevented timely applications of post-emergence herbicides.”

By the second week of July, there were only a handful of fields with scattered blooms, Raper said. “The average field was 7-10 days behind.  Still, many fields looked very strong with cotton beginning to lap the middles. Plant bug pressure began increasing but square retention was generally reported as high.”

The Tennessee crop made up a lot of lost ground in August, but most of the crop remained about a week behind, Raper said.

Early rains resulted in a fairly shallow root system, and a subsequently drought-resistant plant, Raper said. “Still, plants loaded well and most fields were nearing or just past cutout by August 20.”

Warm temperatures in late September and early October helped to finish off the late crop, Raper said. “Most producers used the last few good days at the end of September to defoliate, and preliminary numbers look like we may match USDA estimates for yield.”

Like in other areas, rains have continually interrupted defoliation or picking. But Raper believes that producers will be able to finish harvest with little penalty in quality.

“Most all varieties in our testing program held locks through the wind and rain and should pick fine given they have time to dry or bleach. Initial yield numbers and quality reports from the field are very promising, but these numbers are coming from the earliest-planted cotton. 

Raper noted that several fields that received all their nitrogen pre-plant began showing signs of N deficiency by mid-July. “Many producers have indicated that they will be splitting their N application next growing season. They will apply 30 percent to 50 percent at planting, followed by the remainder side-dressed prior to first bloom,” Raper said.

Raper noted that earliness is an important theme for cotton producers in west Tennessee. “Producers who placed an emphasis on high square retention and protected the low, first- and second- position fruiting bodies, saw these practices pay off particularly well, as the season was simply too short to allow the plant to compensate with higher position fruit.”


Darrin Dodds, Mississippi’s Extension cotton specialist, said cotton was about halfway through harvest by mid-October, putting it slightly behind the 5-year average. A strong mid-October storm did damage some cotton.

“In areas that received very heavy rainfall, we likely will lose yield due to cotton being dislodged from the boll and ending up on the ground,” Dodds said. “We may also see some quality issues depending on how long it will take this crop to dry out.”

Despite a late start, growers are anticipating a good harvest this fall.

“We had cooler than normal temperatures for much of the summer, which helped with fruit retention. In addition, it was a lighter than normal plant bug year. Mississippi is projected to harvest the second-highest yielding crop on record (1,154 pounds), second only to the crop we harvested last year.”

According to USDA, 29 percent of the U.S. cotton crop had been harvested by the week ending Oct. 19, compared to a five-year average of 31 percent. Louisiana producers had harvested 80 percent of their acres by that date, compared to a five-year average of 75 percent; Mississippi had harvested 50 percent of its acres, compared to a five-year average of 59 percent; Missouri had harvested 30 percent, compared to the five-year average of 45 percent; Arkansas had harvested 40 percent of its acres by that date, compared to a five-year average of 54 percent; and Tennessee had harvested 20 percent of its cotton acres, compared to a five-year average of 41 percent.

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