That would eclipse the old record of 877 pounds set in 1994.

Doug Rundle, deputy state statistician, said the prediction is based on what farmers reported in a Nov. 1 survey and the latest information from ginners.

"We'll do a final survey in December, but right now, it sure looks like we're headed for a record crop," he said.

Rundle said it was expected that cotton farmers in southeast Arkansas and east central Arkansas would have good crops. "It was the northeast that was in question." He said the cotton crop was running late in northeast Arkansas. However, warm and dry weather allowed the crop there to develop and catch up.

Bill Robertson, cotton specialist with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, was surprised at the record yield forecast. He had expected the late crop in the northeast to drag the number down.

He said Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee are also expecting record cotton yields.

Robertson figured that as of Nov. 13, farmers had harvested 90 percent of the 940,000-acre crop.

"The season has really dragged out," said Robertson. "Recently, though, we've had great weather for harvest. With the dry weather we've had, farmers have been able to pick late into the night until the dew sets."

He said farmers have used powerful headlights on their pickers to aid them. Some farmers have been working until 11 p.m.

"Some growers in south Arkansas have finished up and moved their pickers north to help farmers there. A tremendous amount of cotton has been picked in north Arkansas with this extra picker power.

"It takes a lot of cotton acreage to pay for a six-row picker, so when you finish picking your cotton, if you can find somebody who needs help, you can pay some bills."

The crop's quality is expected to be good. The majority of the crop has been classed by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s classing offices as white, a good quality grade. A lesser "light-spotted cotton" grade would cost farmers money.

A record-breaking crop could be a moneymaker for many farmers who need high yields and good prices to help them crawl out of an economic hole.

Robertson said a good year like this can deceive the public into thinking farmers are better off than they are. The crop was valued at $336.4 million in 2002.

"You may look at this year and see that farmers are having good yields and prices in corn, soybeans and cotton and think farmers are getting rich. But this year can only help make up for some of the bad years."

Lamar James is an Extension communications specialist with the University of Arkansas.

e-mail: ljames@uaex.edu