A total of 510,339 acres of cotton were planted in Louisiana this year. This marks several years of reducing cotton acreage in Louisiana that can be attributed to difficult production seasons and low prices over the past several years.
The 10-year average lint yield is 660 pounds per acre and the two highest yields on record are 828 pounds and 15 pounds in 1991and 1994,respectively. This year, with 85 percent to 90 percent of the crop harvested, it looks like we may break the previous record.
Reminiscing over the outrageous yields that appeared to be present prior to the 2002 hurricanes, this specialist is just happy Mother Nature has allowed the producers to harvest this crop with minimal complications and delays.
Early season conditions – too wet in Northeast Louisiana for timely planting and too dry in the South Central region – gave all indications of a difficult year. Well, what we are experiencing in the fields right now just supports the resilient nature of cotton. Due to delayed plantings, the majority of Louisiana cotton has been behind in crop progress all year, but now, we’re right on time being scheduled to finish in late October.
Timely rains in most areas allowed for good in-season development. In early August, the rain completely stopped for several weeks shutting down the crop in rapid fashion. Just enough rain followed allowing for uppermost bolls to fill out but not allowing for vegetative growth to resume.
And the picking season came rapidly. After 1999, when producers had their crop stolen from them by boll rot and, 2000, by hurricanes, Louisiana producers cleaned fields in amazing fashion. Luckily, the weather has cooperated – we’ve had no hurricanes and incidences of losses due to hardlock have been minimal and isolated. For the most part, we have had a lot of dry weather allowing producers ample time to harvest.
The quality is also greatly improved over previous years. Minimal rainfall on exposed bolls has resulted in terrific overall color grades. Micronaire and staple, two sources of discount, are considerably better thus far at 4.74 and 34.46 with 68 percent of the cotton classed.
This is credited to a culmination of genetic improvements and environmental factors this year. While environmental conditions certainly influence cotton quality in a particular year, a shift to varieties that contain better fiber quality genetics contributed to the improvements. Several of these new varieties offer improved quality packages without sacrificing high-yielding capacity.
Current cotton prices are also in the favor of the producer. Friday’s price for December cotton was in the neighborhood of 81 cents per pound. At this price, government payments will be reduced and possibly be non-existent. However, as long as we stay in the territory of 81 cents and above, hopefully most Louisiana producers will be able to pay a few notes and have enough left over for an “RC Cola and a Moon Pie.” It will also be nice to be paid at the marketplace for our product.
Most of the price rally appears to be stemming from recent purchases. Most of these purchases are coming from China. If producers have the opportunity to book their 2004 crop, it may be wise. A very wealthy commodities trader was once asked his secret to making money in cotton trading and he said, “I don’t know, I guess I always sold too early”.
Additionally, history tells us that cotton farming is a volatile business, and we should continue to encourage government officials to support policies that are amicable to cotton producers in the tough times.
Dr. Joel C. Faircloth is an LSU AgCenter cotton specialist. He can be reached at (318) 435-2903 or