Southeast cotton growers eyed topping last year’s hurricane-ravaged crop, with one state on a track to match a 70-year record.
It’s become a bedeviling question over the last few years, though: How much Southeast cotton will tropical storms take?
“We've lost in Georgia a significant amount of money in the past three years due to hurricanes, and that's not something we typically deal with in cotton. But you know, if it happens three years in a row, who's to think it won't happen a fourth year,” said Jared Whitaker, University of Georgia Extension cotton agronomist, Sept. 4 at the UGA Cotton and Peanut Research Field Day.
Hurricane Dorian’s path steered away from a direct hit to Georgia’s cotton belt. It caused some distress along the state’s coast. “We got lucky with Dorian and let's hope we get through the rest of this season,” Whitaker said.
But Dorian did make landfall near North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras Sept. 6. “Preliminary reports indicate cotton crop damage ranging from severe to very little, with the most damage obviously in near-coastal counties and the Blacklands, but we will know more as time elapses,” said Dr. Guy Collin, NC State Extension cotton agronomist, on Sept. 6.
Hard to Know
Away from tropical storms, much of the Southeast this growing season faced hot, dry conditions. Michael Davis’ farming operation is based in Jackson County. The well-established, multigenerational family farm works land in several Florida Panhandle counties. It’s been an odd, tough year, he said.
“I don't know, it seems like this year I cannot get a handle on how the crop is. Seems the weather is just so much different this year after the hurricane. I think most of the crops look good. We had some unusual heat in June and into July and still having it now where there's triple-digit heat index and I think we've had some pollination problems with peanuts and cotton. We have irrigated acres and dryland, but I don't know. Normally this time of year, I guess pretty close (on yield potential), but I'm scared to guess right now for this year,” Davis said in an interview with Southeast Farm Press in late August.
“We are halfway through September, and many parts of the Southeast have received very little rain this month. The only big exception is the area hit by Hurricane Dorian. This, coupled with temperatures that are well above normal, is adding water stress to plants that are trying to make it to harvest and reducing stream and lake levels. It’s no wonder that drought levels have been getting worse,” said Pam Knox, the University of Georgia agricultural climatologist.
According a USDA crop report released Sept. 1, Alabama’s cotton production was forecast at 1.05 million bales, 18 percent more than 2018. If realized, this will be the highest production for the state since 1948. Peanut acreage was revised up to 160,000 acres with production forecasted at 534 million pounds, down 3 percent from 2018. Soybean production at 12.1 million bushels is down 13 percent from last year. Corn for grain production is forecast at 49.1 million bushels, up 26 percent from 2018.
Florida’s cotton acreage was about 113,000 planted and 111,000 harvested with production forecasted at 210,000 bales, up 104 percent from 2018 when Hurricane Michael devastated the Panhandle. Peanut acreage was revised up to 165,000 with production forecasted up 23 percent from last year at 620 million pounds.
Georgia cotton production was forecast at 2.70 million bales, up 38 percent from 2018’s hurricane-damaged crop. Peanut acreage was estimated to be 670,000 planted and 660,000 harvested with production forecasted at 2.90 billion pounds, up slightly from 2018. Yield is forecast at 4,400 pounds per acre. Soybean production at 3.47 million bushels is down 36 percent from last year. Corn for grain production is forecast at 55.6 million bushels, up 11 percent from 2018
South Carolina cotton production was forecast at 510,000 bales, up 21 percent from the 2018 crop, which was impacted by Hurricanes Florence and Michael. Corn for grain production is forecast at 40.4 million bushels, up 3 percent from 2018. Peanut acreage was estimated to be 65,000 planted with production forecasted at 223 million pounds, a 20 percent decrease from 2018. Soybean production, at 11.6 million bushels, is a 4 percent increase from last year.
U.S. cotton production was forecast at 21.9 million bales, down 3 percent from the August forecast and up 19 percent from 2018. Yields are forecast to average 839 pounds per acre, down 16 pounds from last month and down 25 pounds from last year. Harvested acreage is estimated at 12.5 million acres, down 1 percent from the August forecast and up 23 percent from the previous year.
Estimating cotton losses after a tropical storm? Collins provides a helpful formula, one Extension specialists in the Southeast have had to develop recently. First, count the number of locks of cotton blown onto the ground and determine how many bolls per foot of row are lost.
“It takes about a dozen bolls per foot of row on 36-inch rows to make a bale, and roughly four locks to make a boll. One lock per foot of row would roughly come to ten pounds of lint per acre. So, if a storm blew four locks per foot of row to the ground 50 pounds per acre in lint loss. This is not a very precise estimate due to differences in boll size, seed weight etcetera,” he said.