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Mississippi cotton struggling in hot, dry weather

Cotton across Mississippi is faring better than most other row crops, but it is struggling here and nationwide because of heat and drought.

Tom Barber, cotton specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said cotton yields will be down and quality will be lower than normal this year.

“About 32 percent of our crop is in the poor to very poor category because of the droughty conditions,” Barber said.

Much of the state’s cotton is shorter than usual, which typically limits yield potential. “We can make a good yield with short cotton, but we have to have enough stalk to have ample fruiting opportunities,” Barber said. “When our cotton is extremely short, it means we don’t have the nodes and positions to produce enough bolls for an average yield.”

Quality suffers in a drought because cotton bolls are smaller and the lint length is shorter.

Market prices for cotton have not fluctuated much in recent years. Barber said the entire Cotton Belt has struggled with drought this year, so nationwide yields are expected to be low. Less production should bring higher prices.

“Texas has 50 percent of their crop poor or very poor, and they have 2 million acres they’re not even going to pick,” Barber said. “We only have a few acres that won’t be harvested. Even some of our bad dryland cotton should have enough bolls to pick.”

Irrigated cotton is performing fairly well where irrigation was started on time, but Jim Thomas, Extension agricultural engineer, said only about 35 percent to 40 percent of the state’s cotton crop is irrigated. Most of these irrigated acres are in the Delta.

“It’s been an expensive year for irrigation,” Thomas said. “A lot of producers started cotton irrigation in June, a full month ahead of when we typically start irrigation. We’ve applied one or two more irrigations than normal, and we’ve gotten no relief from rainfall.”

Most cotton is watered by furrow irrigation. In many fields, 15-inch flexible tubing is laid across the high end of sloped fields, and water runs between rows, soaking the roots. It typically takes two to four days to irrigate a field, and another irrigation is started 10 days to two weeks later.

“We usually do three irrigations a year, but this year we’ll probably do six and some fields may run seven,” Thomas said. “Water is free, but the diesel needed to fuel the pumps costs twice as much as it did last year.”

Thomas said this summer’s drought is the worst he’s seen in his more than 20-year career. Many areas of the state have had virtually no rain since April or May. Although cotton is a drought-resistant crop, many non-irrigated fields without rain have simply burned up.

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