With cotton harvest just getting under way in Mississippi, farmers are expecting yields that should exceed the five-year yield average.
High temperatures and generally dry weather since the end of August matured the cotton quickly. According to the Sept. 1 USDA crop report, 86 percent of the crop is in good or excellent condition. The National Agricultural Statistics Service estimated in August that Mississippi growers would harvest 759 pounds of cotton per acre from 1.17 million acres.
“That 759 pounds will slightly exceed the five-year average,” said Will McCarty, cotton specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service. “We have an outside chance of making an 800-pound crop if we get perfect harvest conditions.”
He said the biggest problem growers faced this year was the cold, wet start. A lot of cotton, especially in the north Delta, had to be replanted. In the Natchez/Vicksburg area, 10,000 to 15,000 acres were lost shortly after planting when the Mississippi River flooded.
Since then, weather conditions have been close to ideal for most cotton-growing areas. “Going into the middle of August, we had the highest percent boll retention I've ever seen,” McCarty said.
Bollworms were heavy across the state, as were plant bugs and stinkbugs, but McCarty said most growers were able to manage these insects. This was the first year that boll weevils were not a factor statewide.
The most recent challenge has been from a foliage disease caused by Cercospora and alternaria. These microorganisms are always present in the environment, but conditions became right for their development in late August and early September.
“By mid-August, the crop was carrying a tremendous boll load that put a great demand on the plant for nutrients, especially potassium,” McCarty said. “We saw the foliage wilt first on droughty soils or those with slightly lower fertility levels, then it spread to other areas where cotton was in a near-deficient status for potassium.”
McCarty said that had this disease occurred earlier in the season, it likely would have affected yields. It should not hurt production this late in the season.
“The No. 1 focus right now is to harvest this crop and preserve the quality,” McCarty said.
John Coccaro, area Extension agent for agronomic crops, said the south Delta had already completed a good bit of harvest by the first week of September.
“We haven't ginned enough cotton to get a feel for yields, but it looks good,” Coccaro said.
He said the area has some cotton planted in mid-April, which is very early, and other fields that weren't planted until the first of June. Normally, cotton is planted in a two-week stretch, but with this year's wide planting window, harvest will likely continue until the end of October.
“We hope for no rain until Thanksgiving,” Coccaro said. “Once farmers get through harvesting, they'll immediately start shredding the stalks and getting the fall tillage done.”
Bonnie Coblentz writes for Mississippi State University Ag Communications.