Between adverse weather and market woes, cotton farmers have had their fair share of difficulties this season. Even so, Arkansas and Louisiana farmers are optimistic and say that, while they may have fewer acres planted in cotton, their cotton looks good.
Bill Robertson, Extension cotton agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, Richard Costello of Delta Ag Services in Louisiana, and Bobby Skeen, executive vice president of the Louisiana Cotton and Grain Association, discussed where farmers are in harvesting cotton and tips for finishing out the season.
Arkansas cotton harvest
"Statewide we just got rolling good as hurricane Delta rolled in," Robertson said. "According to our ag stats report, our cotton was at about 54% picked last year at this time, and our five-year average is 47%. We are currently around 25% to 30% harvested, and we will likely be about two weeks behind in our harvest progress when we do get back into the field.
"While the impact of hurricane Delta was minor for most Arkansas cotton producers, it has resulted in another handful of harvest days that are gone. Some feel like we are getting nickel and dimed to death with many things this season, including the weather. We need some sun and wind to bleach our cotton back to white again and a good string of days to have pickers rolling again to put 2020 behind us a quick as we can."
Robertson shared a couple of tips for farmers to keep in mind as they finish out the harvest season.
"While we are in a hurry to finish this crop out, it is important to not push our moisture by putting wet cotton in a module. The main thing we want to do is preserve the fiber quality that's in the field right now," he said. "We can't make it better, but we can make it worse easily. We need to do the best job we can to preserve the quality we have in the field.
"Also, keep in mind contamination prevention during harvest to keep the cotton clean. U.S. cotton has always had the reputation of having less contamination than any other country in the world. By working hard to keep plastic bags and trash out of the field, that goes a long way toward maintaining our contamination prevention reputation."
Louisiana cotton harvest
Despite hurricanes and rainy weather, the cotton harvest still looks good, according to Costello.
"The rain in the middle of September ran us a bit behind, but most farmers are back in the field this week," said Costello on Oct. 5. "Most cotton farmers have their second shot of defoliation on their cotton and are about ready to pick, or they are picking now."
Costello, who covers northeast Louisiana, said last year was a big year for cotton.
"Cotton is down some this year from what it was last year," he said. "From what I'm hearing so far, the cotton yields have been all over the board with most being fair to good averages so far this season."
Louisiana is about 60% harvested, according to Skeen.
"The state as a whole is making some good headway with the harvest," Skeen said. "We only have around 160,000 acres of cotton in the state of Louisiana this year, which is down from the 200,000 plus we had last year. With fewer acres, though, it doesn't take as long to pick it despite the weather pushbacks we've experienced this season."
Fortunately, at the time of hurricane Laura, the few cotton fields ready to be harvested were able to be picked before the hurricane hit.
"At the time of Laura, the cotton already open was picked before the hurricane," Skeen said. "There was also a fair amount of cotton that had just been defoliated, so it still had some leaves on it to protect it from the storm.
"We had anywhere from 4 to 8 inches of rain from hurricane Laura, just depending on where you were in the state. Around Monroe where I live, we got 5 inches of rain, but if you went to the next parish over, they got 7. Some cotton got twisted up as the soybeans did, but for the most part, there was only a little bit of yield loss.
"Between Hurricane Delta and other potential weather, it might be difficult to finish up the harvest, but there is still work to be done. Right now, we just need to finish getting the crop out of the field as quickly as possible, so we can have something marketable."