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State's cotton struggles through heat, humidity
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The heat and humidity of August took its toll on cotton, and producers are ready for some relief both for themselves and their crop.
Producers will begin harvesting the bulk of Mississippi's cotton in late September. The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts a state average of 928 pounds an acre, down from last year's record high of 1,024 pounds. State production is forecast at 2.30 million bales, down 2 percent from the previous year.
Steve Martin, agricultural economist in Stoneville with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said cotton prices are low. December futures are 47 to 48 cents a pound, and the cash price is about 42 cents. Loan rate is 52 cents a pound.
"Low prices are a function of the U.S. crop being bigger than originally estimated," Martin said. "Although world reserves shrunk compared to last year, they did not drop as much as we had anticipated earlier in this growing season."
Tom Barber, Extension cotton specialist, said high temperatures and humidity have stressed the crop, but a weather change can still help it.
"A lot of bolls on the top of the plants are opening sooner than we wanted," Barber said. "If these conditions continue, the bolls could be a little smaller, weigh less and have shorter fiber."
Barber said cotton has accumulated a lot of heat units each day since early August.
"When that happens, the bolls produce really fast, and if the plant is not healthy enough or is wilting, it is not producing enough food to fill those bolls," Barber said.
Scattered rains in late August helped cotton in some areas by providing moisture and cooling the canopy. But with an average 90 percent relative humidity and daytime temperatures of 96 degrees and nighttime temperatures of 79 degrees in August, the plants aren't getting much relief.
"Most of the hills got enough rain during the growing season, but early rains prevented the crop from establishing a good root system," Barber said. "Cotton in the Delta has good roots, but got very little rain this summer. Nonirrigated cotton in this part of the state has struggled."
Disease problems struck cotton earlier than normal, and insects have been a problem throughout the growing season. Several fields are battling stink bugs and fought against plant bugs.
"We spent a lot of money on insect control and pumping for irrigation," Barber said.
A bright spot is the absence of boll weevils, once the biggest enemy of the cotton crop. Jeannine Smith, executive director of the Mississippi Boll Weevil Management Corporation, said 93 percent of the state's cotton fields have had no boll weevils during this trapping season.
"By the middle of August, only 3,199 weevils had been captured this season, a 29 percent drop from those captured in 2004," Smith said. "The majority of the weevils trapped this year have been in Tate, Panola and Marshall counties, and eradication regions 2 and 4 (the south Delta and along the Alabama state line) have been weevil-free for the season."
Boll weevil traps are checked weekly in areas where weevils are found, and every two or three weeks elsewhere depending on how long the area has been weevil-free.