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Louisiana cotton: estimated $112 million loss

According to very preliminary reports from Louisiana State University Extension Service, revenue losses to Hurricane Gustav exceed $400 million for major crops and aquaculture. The report uses USDA and LSU AgCenter information on acreage, production levels, and prices along with general assessments of commodities conducted by LSU AgCenter production specialists and compiled by LSU economist Kurt Guidry.

Additional economic impacts to agriculture such as infrastructure damage such as damaged buildings, sheds, fences, etc., were not estimated. There are also reports of some infrastructure damage to facilities that could impact stored commodities.

Also, estimates for increased production costs such as increased harvest costs due to reduced harvest efficiency and increased tillage operations needed to repair wet harvest conditions were also not estimated.

The hardest hit crop was cotton, which lost an estimated $112 million in lint and cottonseed, followed by sugarcane, $72 million; soybeans, $61 million; corn, $46 million; and rice, $30 million. In addition timber losses were estimated at $8 million and losses in the state’s sweet potato crop were estimated at $27 million.

According to a report from Louisiana Extension cotton specialist Sandy Stewart, much of the Louisiana cotton crop was at an extremely vulnerable stage to tropical weather systems. Most of the crop was between 60 percent and 90 percent and ready for harvest aides to be applied. Under normal circumstances, a large amount of Louisiana cotton would have been harvested in three weeks.

From Jonesville, La., south, cotton losses were due to a combination of extreme wind and extreme rain. From Jonesville north, losses were due to extreme rainfall.

Due to extreme rainfall amounts and saturated conditions, some cotton still left on the stalk will not be harvestable, Stewart says. The attachments of bolls to branches and carpels (burs) to bolls have a great deal of rot and will decrease harvest efficiency.

An overwhelming percentage of Louisiana cotton fields had seed sprouting in the bolls, which will lead to quality losses and greatly increased ginning costs.

Boll rot pathogens had taken some toll prior to Hurricane Gustav and their incidence has increased since the storm.

Cotton yield losses from Hurricane Gustav are primarily in two forms, according to Stewart. Some seedcotton is on the ground from being blown out of the boll or from the pounding rain. Second, many bolls still left intact on the plant have begun to deteriorate due to the wet conditions. This deterioration is in the form of a rotting of the peduncles (attachments of the bolls to branches) and carpels (commonly known as burs that hold the cotton in the boll).

This deterioration will lead to losses when a spindle picker is run. The shaking action of the spindles on the plants will cause some cotton to be “thrown out” in front of the picker, Stewart says. Essentially, it reduces the amount of cotton that actually ends up in the picker basket. The ground will be very white behind the picker.

Yield losses will range from 30 percent to 65 percent. At a mid-range of 45 percent, at 65 cents per pound, the cotton lint loss would be $80 million.

Cotton quality will be severely affected by the sprouting of seeds in the boll and the overall rot and deterioration of the bolls, according to Stewart. These losses will be for cotton that is actually harvested and will result in discounts for poor grades. Stewart says about 75 percent of the harvested cotton will receive discounts ranging from 2.2 to 3.2 cents per pound.

Assuming a 2.5-cent average discount and the price at 65 cents per pound for remaining cotton that may be harvested , this will be a loss of $4 million.

Ginners estimate that ginning seedcotton with poor seed will cost an additional $50 per bale due to drying costs, slower operation, additional equipment cleanout, and extra handling of the seed. The ginned seed will then be subject to dockages. It is estimated that this will cost ginners an extra $12 million to gin this cotton.

Stewart noted that USDA/Risk Management Agency guidelines are either vague or non-existent concerning evaluation of losses due to deteriorated bolls and sprouted seeds. “However, these are very real losses. I strongly encourage and advocate the need for insurance adjusters to be able to use exceptions, variations, etc. in evaluating the losses due to these reasons.

“Just because there is cotton left on the stalk does not mean that it is harvestable or of equal quality to pre-storm conditions. Stewart says a more accurate determination of losses can be made when pickers are actually able to get in the field and the true effect of the quality loss is known at the gin.”

Assumptions in the cotton calculations are based on 303,000 total acres and the pre-hurricane USDA estimate of 909 pounds per acre yield.

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