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Heavy rains threaten Alabama cotton

We've all heard the saying, "Too much of a good thing can be…"

Well you know.

And until only a few weeks ago, Dale Monks and other Alabama cotton experts were eagerly anticipating record yields, thanks to ample amounts of summer rainfall.

But more recent rainfall — incessant rainfall, in some instances — has squelched those hopes. Even so, Monks and other crop observers are still banking on farmers pulling as many chestnuts out of the fire — or, this case, bolls out of a water-logged cotton crop.

For now, how much cotton ultimately will be saved is anyone's guess.

What is certain is that all over the state, as much as 50 to 60 percent of the crop in some fields already has been lost to crop-related problems associated with the heavy moisture.

"I'm getting reports from as far north as the Tennessee Valley and as far south as the Gulf Coast," says Monks, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System agronomist and Auburn University professor of agronomy and soils.

Some of this especially wet cotton may be saved, though quality will suffer.

One of the hallmarks of water-damaged cotton crop is boll rot. The damp seeds in open bolls eventually begin to sprout. In some cases, a lot of the cotton falls out of the boll and begins to string out.

Additionally, some of the cotton is discolored by organisms and mold that because of heavy moisture eventually begins to grow on it.

"In that case, the cotton can still be ginned but quality begins to go," Monks says.

But to borrow a phrase from a popular movie title, hope floats, even amid this heavy rainfall.

There is always a great deal of randomness associated with any crop and cotton is no exception, Monks says.

While heavy-canopied cotton tends to hold moisture, rendering the bolls more susceptible to rot, bolls on short plants are exposed to more air movement and tend to dry out more quickly following rain.

Production practices, such has irrigation and nitrogen application, often prove to be influential factors too, Monks says.

He's confident much of the crop ultimately will recover. But one other specter looms: cooler weather.

Unusually cool spring weather postponed planting of part of the crop. And, ironically, the effects of projected cooler fall temperatures may threaten this late-planted crop, Monks says.

"Cotton that has not opened and fully matured will have problems because of a projected drop in temperature," he says.

And while it takes only a couple of warm days to restart the process, he fears that prolonged coolness will delay it.

TAGS: Cotton
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