Bill Peele, a veteran crop consultant in Washington, N.C. says this is the earliest he has ever seen cotton mature in eastern North Carolina.

Prior to the threat from Hurricane Earl, cotton was two to three weeks ahead of schedule. Many growers cancelled plans to defoliate cotton prior to Earl’s arrival, fearing open bolls would be a big target for high winds and heavy rains.

Still, Peele says, the crop is going to be much earlier than usual.

Further up the coast in North Carolina, Perquimans County Extension agent Lewis Smith says cotton will be at least two weeks ahead of schedule. “I don’t ever remember a year in which growers in our county combined soybeans and defoliated cotton in August,” Smith says.

With very little damage from Hurricane Earl, Smith says he expects defoliation to begin a day or so after the storm and will still keep most cotton at least two to three weeks ahead of schedule.

“The advantage of being early in our part of North Carolina is that our growers tend to run a little late getting cotton picked, particularly where farmers are harvesting corn. Corn was harvested early, so having cotton ready this early in the growing season isn’t really going to be much of a problem,” says Smith.

“The re-growth in some of the later maturing cotton isn’t going to be sufficient enough for growers to wait. So, most of our growers are going to go ahead and pick what they can get from the early crop, get cotton out of the way and be ready to pick soybeans, which are also early this year,” says Paul Smith, Extension ag agent in Gates County, N.C.

“I don’t ever remember seeing a season like this, and not just for cotton.”

The heat, often at record levels for extended days at a time and severe drought in some areas, just produced an unusual growth pattern for crops. “In general, our yields on all our crops are going to average at best and in some cases, like cotton, a good bit lower than the past couple of years,” he adds.

After several years of cotton acreage going down significantly, acreage was up across the state and the Extension agents in North Carolina and Bill Peele agree that it’s an unfortunate year for cotton production to be average, especially because of good prices for cotton this year.