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Serving: Central

Mississippi farmers bracing for 'difficult harvest'

To put that in perspective, that would have been the second largest crop ever harvested in Mississippi. The record production of bales was reported in 1937. That year Mississippi cotton growers produced some 2,690,000 bales. However, it required 3,421,000 harvested acres to it. The second largest crop was produced in 1948. That year 2,353,000 bales were produced from 2,560,000 acres. That’s enough about ancient history.

Going into mid August anticipation and expectations for all crops was high. At that time, it looked like soybeans, corn, rice and cotton were going to make excellent crops. And in some areas those expectations may still exist.

However, weather during the last half of August and the first week of September let the air out of many expectations. August was perhaps one of the wettest on record. Rainfall accumulation for the period of Aug. 1 through early September was reported to be 11.09 inches at Stoneville, 8.95 inches in Greenwood and 11.18 inches in Vicksburg.

This compares to the historical averages for that period of 3.06, 3.07 inches and 3.40 inches. Keep in mind that some individual communities may have recorded higher amounts of rain than these weather stations. Also, most of this rain fell the last ten days of August and the first week of September. And it is raining like the rip outside as I try to type this the night of Sept. 6.

I do not remember a year that has been this wet during this time period. I was told that 1957 was a terrible and disastrous harvest. I remember 1984. In 1984, relentless rains came in late September and early October. While the damage to the crop was bad in 1984, it is in reality and potentially much worse in 2001. Period!

Briefly, what has happened during the last two weeks of August and first week of September is that the weather has duplicated a seed germinator. Humidity has been the range of 100 percent; temperatures have been in the 85 to 95-degree range with foggy mornings, frequent rains and very poor drying conditions. Crops with mature seed have suffered great damage. Some fields of grain sorghum and soybeans may have been completely lost.

Boll rot has been a concern all season. The presence of a little boll rot in early August was an indication of good growth and a respectable crop. This has progressed to serious proportions in many fields. Seeds of open and cracked bolls have sprouted worse than I have ever experienced over such a widespread area.

Early maturing and/or early-planted cotton have been the most effected. Cotton that was mature enough and open enough to have normally been defoliated by Sept. 15 has been devastated in areas of the state receiving the described weather. It seems that the damage extends across the entire state and seems to decrease as you move north. This being due to less rain and later maturing crops in the northern areas of the state. However, damage is increasing in those areas as well.

If weather conditions persist, damage severity will continue to increase and will spread over a wider geographic region. As this is written, later maturing cotton that has little cotton open, has suffered from boll rot but not the seed sprouting and destruction present in the more open cotton. Re-growth at this stage is also as bad as I have experienced and must be dealt with.

Can this damaged cotton be picked and ginned? There is no simple answer to that question. As the top bolls reach maturity the crop should be defoliated to increase air circulation. A follow up application of defoliant may be required in fields with lodged, wrapped up cotton.

In fields with a high percentage of seed sprouting in the boll, a desiccant may be required to dry green plant material. This may well be true in fields with heavy weed populations as well. Controlling moisture in seed cotton is critical. This is true even if the weather turns in our favor. Preparing this crop for harvest will be complicated and more expensive than previously expected.

Seek the best advice you can and act as weather allows. Moduling cotton picked with green leaves or sprouted seed can lead to further deterioration of quality. Sprouted seed could either be seriously discounted in value or rejected completely. If these seed are discounted or rejected, seed revenue will not cover the cost of ginning. Thus adding additional production expense for the grower.

I was reminded that in 1984 we “pushed” pickers through the field to harvest the crop. Well, consider this: most of the pickers running in 1984 were light two-row machines. If rains continue, can you push a four-row, or six-row, machine with a five to six bale basket through a field that was para-plowed this spring or last fall? Something to think about.

I am meeting Dr. Lester Spell and other officials on Sept. 7 to show them first hand what is taking place in the field. Perhaps the weather will improve and our losses will be reduced. I am sure I sound a little negative in this article. That is perhaps because of what I have been called to look at this week. Maybe in a future article I will have seen a better picture in the field and feel a little better about the crop prospects.

Always remember, regardless of how bad it is, it could always be worse. Each of us is blessed in many ways. Even though the crop is on the verge of a potential disaster, take a moment to be thankful for what we have. And remember, it really could be worse.

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