LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — It's a busy time of year for Arkansas farmers. "They're trying to market and harvest cotton and other crops all at the same time," says Bill Robertson, cotton specialist with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

He said how far along the cotton harvest is depends on location in the state.

Statewide, about 25 percent of the crop had been picked by Oct. 9, he estimated. Farmers in extreme southeast Arkansas are farther along while farmers in the northeast are just beginning to pick cotton. Much of the crop in northeast Arkansas has been delayed because of severe spring rains and flooding, which forced farmers to replant.

"I'm hearing decent yields," says Robertson. "In Desha and Ashley counties I've seen some really excellent cotton. I'm hearing really good yields around Marianna."

He said yields of 2.3 to 2.5 bales per acre are not unusual. "I've heard rumors from reliable sources of 3-bale cotton from folks in Lonoke County."

Field drainage is a major factor this year in yields, according to Robertson. Where drainage is a problem, yields drop off to about 1,000 pounds per acre.

Robertson said much of the cotton planted in early- to mid-April caught some rain as bolls started opening. The rain caused bolls to hard lock, a condition that prevents bolls from opening fully and exposing the cotton lint. "It's not yielding what we thought it would," he noted.

The specialist said cotton planted in mid-April to the first few days in May is probably going to be some of the state's best cotton. But yields drop off as farmers get into cotton that was planted in mid-May. As farmers get into even later planted cotton, yields will decline rapidly, according to Robertson.

"For the most part, cotton around Pine Bluff is picking better than what it looks like it would," he said. "A number of Jefferson County farmers have been pleasantly surprised. Yields are not as good as last year, but the crop is certainly doing better than what it looks like."

Robertson said the state's 900,000-plus acre cotton crop started out as a fairly inexpensive crop to produce.

"But toward the end, plant bugs and stink bugs became a major, expensive annoyance. Especially with the later planted cotton, fall armyworms tore into everyone's pocketbook. Farmers ran out of money trying to treat for plant bugs. Historically, farmers have had more expensive crops, but they sure have plenty of money tied up in this crop."

There is a glimmer of good news in the marketing area. Robertson said prices have improved some and there are some pricing opportunities.

What cotton farmers need through the rest of the harvest is sunny, dry weather, something that didn't happen Oct. 9 when rain moved across the state.

A hard rain can knock cotton onto the ground, causing yield losses. Rain can also discolor cotton, causing farmers to receive less money, said Robertson. Sunny weather can help bleach cotton back to its original color.

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