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Roller-coaster season near end

LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas cotton crop went from "one of best ever" to "a little above average" in the month of October, says Bill Robertson, cotton specialist with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

"We had November's weather in October," the specialist said. "In October we had 17 rainy days, 21 cloudy days and only four bright, sunny days."

Robertson figured the wet weather had dropped the projected statewide average yield from 841 pounds an acre to the 750- to 760-pound range. The reason for the yield losses is wet weather, which causes cotton to lose weight on the stalk and reduces picking efficiency.

"To achieve 841 pounds, we would have had to have an almost perfect fall for harvest. We've missed that by a long shot," he said.

The poor weather conditions seriously delayed harvesting of the 930,000-acre crop. The weather improved the first week of November, and many farmers across the state were able to pick.

"Some farmers in Desha County put together five harvest days," Robertson said. "They picked as late as they could and as early as they could. Only the dew stopped them."

Statewide, he said, farmers have made a "pretty good dent" in the cotton acreage.

Robertson estimated Nov. 12 that about 80 percent of the Arkansas crop had been harvested. That compares with the five-year average harvest on Nov. 10 of 92 percent.

The figures were even farther apart on Oct. 20, when only 37 percent of the crop had been picked, compared to the five-year average on that date of 66 percent.

As behind as Arkansas farmers are, Robertson said, they appear to be ahead of farmers in several neighboring states. He said he talked to his counterparts recently, and farmers in their states appear to be even further behind than Arkansas.

"If the rain holds off through this weekend, we should be nearly through except for scrapping and some stragglers." He said some farmers are lagging behind because they don't have enough picking capacity, their crop was late or they waited too long to defoliate the leaves.

While making up for lost time, farmers have had to pick cotton in muddy fields.

"We'll have to put more emphasis on field preparation next year. Some producers were wanting to use reduced-till or no-till next year, but rutting will force them to perform land preparation they hadn't planned on."

Meanwhile, despite unfavorable weather, the state's cotton is still holding up well. Most rains haven't been hard enough to cause much cotton to string out and fall on the ground.

"And the quality is holding up better than I thought," Robertson said. "I haven't seen a lot of increase in light-spotted grades or a deterioration of color because of rainfall. About 80 percent of what has been harvested is still being classed as white and nearly 20 percent as light-spotted."

The poor fall harvest weather ends what has been a roller coaster year for cotton farming, according to Robertson.

"We had just about the worst start I've ever seen for a cotton crop. From April 20 to May 20 was almost a disaster for planting cotton because of wet, cold weather. Really early- and late-planted cotton seemed to have fared best. Cotton planted during the normal planting window seems to have suffered."

Moderate temperatures and uncharacteristic rains in July and August helped produce what would have been a near-record crop.

Lamar James is an Extension communications specialist with the University of Arkansas.

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