Mississippi's cotton growers harvested a record 901 pounds per acre in 1997, followed by four years between 737 and 642 pounds. Last year, growers were anticipating a new record when a hurricane and a tropical storm hit during harvest and dropped average yields to 808 pounds per acre.

John Coccaro, area Extension agent based in Sharkey County, said growers this year are harvesting "fabulous yields," especially in the south Delta.

"I have heard of more fields with yields above two bales per acre than any year in the past 10," Coccaro said. "Everyone got an early start planting in late April and the first of May. The temperatures were especially good, not too hot; some are calling it a Midwest summer."

Most of Coccaro's Extension counterparts across the state echo his high hopes and all expressed relief that rain delays have been minimal so far.

"Last year was disheartening: to have had such good yields in the fields and then get hit by two big storms. It was the second year that late-season rains hurt us," Coccaro said. "Most of this area's growers are finished harvesting, but that's not the case across the state."

Ernie Flint, the area agronomic crops agent based in Attala County, said growers in his area are looking at a mixed bag. Farmers who were able to plant earlier produced exceptionally good yields. Fields planted toward the end of May or early June probably will pull the state average down.

"The Delta may have a bumper crop, but that won't be true for us. We started off with rain delaying some plantings. For growers who planted early in low-lying fields, the wet conditions set their crop back," Flint said. "We had plenty of rains throughout the growing season, but we couldn't overcome the tough start. Some growers reapplied nitrogen lost in the wet conditions, but others decided not to."

Charlie Stokes, area agent based in Monroe County, said his growers also had to plant late and have their fingers crossed for favorable harvesting conditions.

"More than 80 percent of our cotton was not planted until late May and early June. Some cotton has just reached the point for defoliation. We need favorable conditions through November to harvest the best quality possible," Stokes said. "This past year's conditions may motivate growers to address drainage problems before planting time next year."

Linda Breazeale is a writer for Mississippi State University.

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