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Growers battle weather, shorter days : Mid-South cotton still at risk

Mid-South cotton yields are holding up surprisingly well despite a late-season assault of wind and rain that delayed harvesting, reduced yield and lowered quality. But a lot of unharvested cotton is still very much at risk for further yield and quality deterioration. Here's more from state cotton specialists:


Northwest Louisiana cotton producers have just about completed harvest with reports of outstanding yields, according to Louisiana cotton specialist Sandy Stewart.

On the other side of the state, northeast Louisiana received some damage from Tropical Storm Isidore and Hurricane Lili. “It's hard to put a percentage on it, but we've definitely lost some cotton.” Stewart is still hearing reports of 800-pound to 900-pound cotton being picked in the area.

Central Louisiana received much more extensive damage from torrential rains, with as much as 50 percent loss being reported, according to Stewart.

“The main concern right now is that we're only about 60 percent harvested (as of Oct. 24). We have a lot of cotton left in the field and with the weather situation we have right now, it's not likely that we'll pick any more cotton in October.

“That leaves with just a couple of months that are historically very wet and have less sunlight. We're going to have to take advantage of every opportunity we have.”

The harvest season began with excellent grades — “31s and 41s for the most part,” Stewart said. “That has begun to fall off as cotton exposed to the rains began going through the system. We're starting to see a lot more 42s and 52s coming through.

“A high percentage of the crop is classing in the discount range for micronaire.”

Stewart stresses that when growers do get back in the field “it's important to have a stalk shredder right behind the picker to remove boll weevil habitat. I wouldn't want to delay that any longer than necessary.”


Most of Tennessee's cotton crop has been defoliated and pickers are running, according to Tennessee Extension cotton specialist Chism Craig. “We're still about two weeks behind and need more of this good weather.”

Earlier in the harvest season, Craig projected cotton yields of 600 pounds at best. “I may have to go back and rethink that. We're hearing some excellent yields, some as high as 1,100 pounds. Haywood County is picking some 1,000-pound cotton. Crockett County is also picking some good cotton.

“I don't think we'll make a bumper crop, but I think we'll make better than 600 pounds in the state.”

On the other hand, the region is suffering through another year of poor quality, according to Craig. “A lot of farmers are really upset. Most everybody is complaining about high micronaire and short staple. Growers have been getting everywhere from 38 cents to 52 cents in the loan. Most of it is in the 42-cent to 44-cent range.”


The Arkansas cotton crop is about 50 percent harvested compared to an average of 70 percent to 80 percent, according to Extension cotton specialist Bill Robertson.

“A few growers have even finished, but that is a rarity. And there are people who still have rice and soybeans in the field.”

About a quarter of the crop is ginned to date, which means that the ginning season will also be extended.

Robertson says yields have looked good, “but I've been hearing a lot about high mikes.

Regrowth in early-harvested cotton has been so extensive that plants often resemble a field of June cotton, according to Robertson. “Somebody told me his field looked like it needed to be sidedressed. There is a tremendous amount of squares out there, the boll weevil program is having to spray that. Where we can go in and shred our stalks, that's going to help.”


“Things are slow right now,” said Charles Snipes, area cotton specialist at the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, Miss. “We just can't seem to get many good picking days. It's still uncertain as to how much damage we've encountered with all the rain and the weather.”

Snipes estimates that about 15 percent of the crop was yet to be defoliated on Oct. 24 and was about 50 percent picked. “The good news is that the grades are not as bad as we thought they would be after all the storms. We're a little encouraged by that, but it's going to continue to worsen if we keep encountering these delays.”

Late-season storms and torrential rains reduced Mississippi yield by 15 percent to 20 percent, according to Snipes. “That's significant but it's not as bad as it could have been.”

Prior to the storms, Mississippi was looking “at as good a crop as we've seen in a long, long time,” Snipes said. “The thing that's helping us now is that 20 percent of a 1,500-pound crop still leaves you with a pretty good crop. At least we're not talking 20 percent of a 700-pound crop.”

Southeast Missouri

According to cotton specialist Bobby Phipps, Missouri Bootheel growers will harvest their third-largest cotton crop ever, if they can get it out of the field.

“We harvest for two days, then sit around for four or five,” the specialist said. “Almost all the Bootheel crop is defoliated, but there is an awful lot in the field, probably a third is still out there, maybe half. It's yielding good, but not as good as it was before all the rains.

“There are a few fields that apparently the budworms worked on pretty hard,” Phipps said. “I've heard of a few where the budworms didn't leave anything.”


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