In late April of 2013, Scott Flowers planted 2,700 acres of cotton, watched it bust the crust, and then packed his shotguns and headed north to bag a few turkeys in Iowa. He was coming off a fine cotton year — 2.8 bales per acre, and had good reason to hope his fields might bring a similar yield again. With a single phone call, his expectations crashed and the season threatened to unravel.

Mattson Farms, Mattson, Miss., a partnership of Steve Cooke and brothers Scott and Graydon Flowers, had been hit with a late frost and sustained rain — and the cotton was left reeling. “Graydon called me while I was hunting and said, ‘It looks like we’re going to have to replant all of this crop.’”

It wasn’t a call Graydon wanted to make. “It was tough news for me to spread around. Anybody farming wants to get off to a good start and it’s so important to any crop, but especially cotton. I’d say we had to replant close to 85 percent of our crop. We thought we were in trouble and believed we’d lost the potential of a month earlier.”

“Out of 2,700 total acres, we replanted about 2,200 acres. Starting May 11 we began to replant and that means our cotton crop was basically planted from the middle of May to June 1,” Scott says. “I’m talking about a late crop and at that point I was of thinking the yield potential would be down 200 pounds.”

 

For photos of Mattson's crew, see Mattson Farms hits banner cotton yields

 

Planting so late should have carried dire consequences for Mattson Farms in a normal year — maybe even dropping yields 20 percent to 30 percent. But 2013 was far from normal for Delta farmers, and by October’s defoliation, the Mattson cotton fields were a thick white with no visible separation between initial and replanted acreage.

But Scott knew a cotton field can deceive: Looking across a sea of fiber and predicting the return is a dangerous tack. The gleam of a heavy white sheen is deceptive and can dash hopes, or it can play into a producer’s favor and cover banner yields, but either way, the bales-per-acre number beneath the white blanket stays hidden until the pickers roll.

Expectation is often an edgy waiting game at harvest; hope is permissible, assumption is not. Assumption is a luxury that farmers can ill afford, and for Scott, watching over the Mattson acreage, the harvest wait was excruciating. At best he hoped for a similar yield to the 2.8 average of 2012, but when the pickers fanned out across the fields — Scott was shocked. “We didn’t know anything until we picked the first field and it came on at 3.5-plus bales. Then we picked a spot that had never even made 2.5 bales and it made 3.5 bales. Next we had a field come in with the first 4-bale cotton we’ve ever had. We knew it was a solid crop, but you can never predict anything like we’ve seen.