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Cotton Growers Hope Drought Continues
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The drought that began the middle of July has taken a harsh toll on Mississippi's cotton crop, but October would be the worst time for that drought to end.
In September, growers began harvesting their first fields, typically among the lowest yielding acres in a year's crop. Rains during harvest will further reduce the fiber quality.
John Coccaro, Sharkey County agent with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said the first 25 percent of the crop were feast and famine fields.
"First yields were highly variable in the South Delta with the worst fields running between 400 and 600 pounds per acre (about one bale) and the best fields yielding about twice that amount," Coccaro said.
"Unfortunately, growers are having some problems with short staple (fiber) length, which is one of several factors in the grading process," Coccaro said. "On the other hand, growers have been fortunate that the droughty year did not cause the high micronaire (thickness) problems in the South Delta we had expected."
A complicating factor for the crop this year was the extended planting season the weather dictated to growers determined to plant cotton.
"Growers stretched the planting window from the normal two-week period to about two months. Part of that was due to a storm on May 5. Farmers who stuck with their original plans (to plant cotton) had fields with seedling disease and thin stands," Coccaro said.
Another factor contributing to lower yields is the increase in cotton acres.
"We increased cotton acreage pretty significantly this year, and while we were glad to get the state acreage back over 1 million acres, that often means that the crop will be on some less desirable fields," Coccaro said. "When farmers reduce acres, they typically plant cotton on their best land so yields tend to be better."
Dr. Will McCarty, state Extension cotton specialist, said Mississippi has about 1.18 million acres of cotton this year, which is about 170,000 more than in 1998. He said growers will be lucky if they harvest the U.S. Department of Agriculture's predicted 716 pounds per acre, which is 40 pounds below the five-year average.
"Yields are improving as the harvest season progresses to better fields and areas that were luckier with rains," McCarty said. "Yields have been variable and have ranged from less than one-half bale per acre to more than two bales per acre depending on soil types, irrigation and/or rainfall."
McCarty said yields from early picked cotton were disappointing, and some bales were docked for short staple and low micronaire. However, as picking has progressed into better-yielding fields, length and micronaire have improved.