Slow-moving rain across much of the Mid-South brought cotton pickers to a halt in mid-September, stalling the region’s march toward one of the earliest harvest in recent memory. The rains may also have affected the quality of the crop.

Arkansas

“We are shut down,” said Arkansas Extension cotton specialist Tom Barber in mid-September. “It may take a while to see the effects from this rain. If cotton was completely defoliated, we are going to have some stringing out. There wasn’t a lot of wind involved, it was just a long, slow rain. It’s going to take a few days for everything to dry out. Sunshine is the best thing on order right now.”

The rain was followed by a cool snap in parts of the Mid-South, and at press time, Barber was suggesting that growers hold off on resuming defoliation activities “until we see warmer temperatures. We’re always better off letting these cool snaps pass.”

In areas where the rain was continuous for three or four days with no sunshine, Barber is concerned about hard lock in fields. “I don’t want to alarm anyone, but hopefully the sun will come out, dry things out, and everything will be okay. But this rain hit us at the worst time possible as far as cotton is concerned.”

Barber estimates that about 10 percent of the Arkansas cotton crop had been harvested by mid-September, “and some early, irrigated cotton is looking pretty good. The turnout on this early harvest has been really high, 39 percent to 41 percent. That helps.”

Cotton yields so far have been variable, according to Barber. “I’ve heard of some dryland cotton that wasn’t even worth pulling a picker through and some irrigated cotton that yielded 1300 pounds.”

Mississippi

“Last week (mid-September) and the week before, a lot of defoliation went out. And from the looks of it, we got a lot of rain this week,” said Extension cotton specialist Darrin Dodds. “With temperatures dipping down for the next few days, it’s probably going to complicate defoliation to a degree. When you start getting temperature fluctuations like that, it can really cause some problems.”

The rainfall has stalled the prospect of a very early harvest, noted Dodds. “We started planting early, and we thought we would be early picking, but all that rain and cloudy weather we got the first 10 days of July gave us a fruiting gap in the middle in a good portion of the crop, which set us back a little bit. Then August and September have been cooler than usual, so we’ve not matured out like we normally do. So we’re back where we normally are for this time of the year.”

Cotton bales rolling out of Bobo-Moseley Gin — photos

Dodds would be surprised if Mississippi producers hit USDA’s September yield projection of 990 pounds per acre. “But we still have a respectable crop. I haven’t seen a crop where we didn’t have a few bumps in the road.”

With the return of sunshine, Dodds believes that cotton picking in the state should be wide open by the last week in September and first couple of weeks of October.

Missouri

Cotton harvest in the Missouri Bootheel was still on hold in mid-September, according to Mike Milam, agronomy specialist for Pemiscot and Dunklin counties. Rain and wind has caused some lodging in the crop. “Some of it was ready to be picked when the rains came through. They’ve been set back. I don’t think it will affect yield that much, but it will delay harvest.”