It's a wonder the 2002 Mid-South cotton crop didn't sprout fins and swim away after all the rain that fell this spring and fall. But in between all that wet was a fairly decent growing season in most parts of the region. In fact, before the late rains set in, many growers were looking at bumper crops. Here's a state-by-state look at how they got there:
Tennessee Extension cotton specialist Chism Craig didn't have to ponder long when asked which practices contributed to the excellent cotton yield potential at the end of the season. “Keeping the seed in the bag early was one of the best things growers could have done. We preach April 20 to May 10 as our recommended planting window. Anything after that, you start seeing a decrease in yields. This year, the producers who didn't start planting until May 20 or even the first of June, did pretty well.”
Cotton planted after that date “actually missed the cool weather, came out of the ground growing without disease and caught some rains in late July and early August that helped the crop instead of causing regrowth.
“The better yields came from some of the later-planted cotton.”
But Craig isn't about to change Tennessee's planting date recommendations. “I wouldn't want to count on that type of weather every year. It's really opposite from what's happened in the past.”
In addition, the later crop exposed a large percentage of the 2002 crop to unusually wet fall weather which dragged out harvest and reduced yield and quality for many cotton producers.
Craig noted that producers who stayed on top of insecticide applications and made them in a timely fashion “did not have as much boll damage and probably had an increase in yield.”
A number of major cotton-producing counties were hit with drought during the season, and big reductions in yields were expected. But as harvest began, yields came in above average.
“I'm very puzzled trying to figure it out,” Craig said. “In July, farmers were complaining that they weren't going to pick 350 pounds to 400 pounds of cotton. Now everybody I ask is telling me they picked a bale and a quarter to a bale and a half. It could be the mild temperatures in August. We had some fairly cool nights.”
West Tennessee also had an early problem with resistant marestail infestations in cotton. “From a cosmetic standpoint, it looked pretty ugly, but once cotton got to early bloom, nobody was complaining about it. So I don't think it gave producers that much trouble later on in the year. I haven't heard anybody talk about having a hard time picking through them. But it will still be a hot topic this fall on what we should burn down with.”
If you had told Missouri Extension cotton specialist Bobby Phipps in May that the 2002 Bootheel cotton crop would average over 750 pounds of lint per acre that year, he wouldn't have believed it.
“We started terribly,” Phipps said. “By June 1, we had one of the worst crops ever with the rain and cold weather and a lot of bad stands. We did a good job of keeping thrips off and we had them in droves.
“Most growers stayed on top of budworms, some of them spending $80 an acre. We also got about 300 more DD-60s than normal this year. That helped.
“I also believe that growers are doing a lot better job of irrigating. We have some dry periods in the summer that could have hurt us. But it seems like producers are improving their irrigation timing, getting in early and more often.”
On the downside, the crop was an expensive one. “It made me think that the farmers in Louisiana and Mississippi switched places with us.
“They had the weeds this year, and we had the insects. We had regrowth like you see down in Mississippi.
“Overall, the crop will be profitable because of the yield. They're not going to get rich, but it's going to be good crop.”
“Louisiana growers did a lot of things right this year,” said Extension specialist Sandy Stewart. “We had an outstanding crop before the hurricanes came along.”
Insect pressure was somewhat light in the region in 2002, according to Stewart. “And we didn't have a terribly hot summer. As a result, our fruit retention all year was well above normal. Producers did a good job of recognizing that fact. They didn't try to overmanage their crop. They took what the summer gave them and it turned out pretty well (by harvest-time).”
There was a point in the season where Arkansas growers had an important decision to make — irrigate and delay layby or layby and delay irrigation.
According to Arkansas Extension cotton specialist Bill Robertson, the dilemma for the growers was, “Do I water and have a crop that's a little weedier than I'd like to have at harvest or should I hold off my water and have a clean field and maybe not pick as much cotton?”
Those who irrigated made the right decision in 2002, noted Robertson. “One producer who chose to water, harvested 1,000 pound across 2,500 acres of cotton. He had a few more weeds at harvest. but I don't think it cost him any more money in terms of competition from the weeds. Maybe he got a little more grief from the landlords.”
“The early indications were we had as good a crop going into harvest as we've had in a long time,” said Mississippi area Extension cotton specialist Charles Snipes. A wet, windy fall reduced that yield potential by 20 percent in some places.
“But 20 percent of a 1,500-pound crop still leaves you some pretty good crop. We're not talking 20 percent of a 700-pound crop. It's not as bad as it could have been.”
A moderate growing season also helped, according to Snipes. “We didn't have any extremes, it was not hot or dry or extremely wet until harvest started. But during the season, we hit a happy medium environmentally.