You have to hand it to Mid-South cotton producers. When nearly three weeks of warm, sunny November weather provided the only extended harvest window this season, they got after it — in a big way.
Arkansas cotton producers went from 19 percent harvested on Nov. 1, to 46 percent harvested by Nov. 8, upped it to 71 percent by Nov. 15, and 81 percent by Nov. 22, according to USDA’s crop progress reports.
Mississippi went from 14 percent harvested on Nov. 1, to 52 percent by Nov. 8, to 85 percent by Nov. 15, to over 90 percent today, according to Extension cotton specialist Darrin Dodds. “In a span of about two weeks, we knocked out about 70 percent of the crop.”
On the other hand, Mid-South cotton yield and quality took a big hit due to excessive rainfall that fell on the area in October, a month which is traditionally when cotton pickers and cotton gins are running at full speed. Rainfall during the month was 300 percent to 500 percent of normal throughout most of the Mid-South.
Dodds said yield reductions are significant in Mississippi, “but don’t seem to be as bad the farther north you go. Damage seems to be a function of planting date, maturity length, amount of rainfall and when the rainfall started relative to the maturity of the crop.”
Dodds says yields of 800 pounds to 1,000 pounds are common in the north Delta, “but in the south Delta, I’m hearing numbers a lot lower than that. We’ve had some fiber quality and color problems. We’ve also had some high micronaire, but we’ve seen some discounts for preparation. Those discounts can range from 90 points for a Level 1, to a Level 2, which is 705 points.”
More cotton than usual is hanging on plants after first picking, but most farmers are telling Dodd they won’t be scrapping it. Instead, they will spend the time and diesel on getting fieldwork done for next year. Many are simply worn out by the season and want to put it in the rearview mirror as soon as possible. “Gins are already starting to close down, and farmers are disgusted in general. It’s been one of those years.”
Dodd says producers will keep a close eye on futures prices before deciding on how much cotton acreage they’ll plant in 2010. “Because of the small U.S. crop, we could use up some of the cotton surplus and prices may go up. If we see that, I think acreage may go up.”
Arkansas Extension cotton specialist Tom Barber says producers have gathered most of the state’s cotton crop and now need to prepare ground for 2010. “We’re usually through by now, everybody’s happy and ready for hunting season, but we’re still working.”
Poor yields are being reported throughout much of Arkansas, according to Barber. “We left a lot of cotton in the field, but most of it shattered on the ground. With the cool temperatures, the young bolls in the top of the plant never opened and fluffed out.”
USDA’s November report on cotton production for Arkansas projected an average yield of 893 pounds. Significant reductions below I-40 will likely be somewhat offset by average yields in northeast Arkansas, notes Barber. “This is now two years in a row (for disaster) in southeast Arkansas.”
Barber said, “The true loss can never be calculated. USDA’s initial yield estimate was low. There’s no doubt that on average, we’re leaving 300 pounds in the field. It’s ugly after the pickers run through. We’re also getting quality losses too, of 4 to 5 cents per pound.”
Barber says back-to-back years of poor production will force some producers out of business. “I hope they don’t, but that’s the reality of it. Two years in a row is a hard pill to swallow for lenders. The only thing boding well for cotton producers right now is the price. It’s looking pretty good, and it may buy back some acres unless soybean or corn prices go through the roof. It’s extremely volatile right now as to what’s going to happen in cotton-growing regions.”
According to Mike Milam, cotton agronomy specialist for Dunklin and Pemiscot counties in the Missouri Bootheel, a misty rain which settled over the region in late November was preventing the last few acres from being harvested. According to USDA, 22 percent of the cotton crop remained in the field for the week ending Nov. 22.
Milam says Missouri Bootheel yields are variable. “I talked to a grower who farms some sandy soils farther north who told me he had a better crop than he had thought, and the quality was better than expected. He was able to get his defoliated before the frost.
“I’ve also seen some fields with quite a bit of regrowth, or in some cases were never defoliated in the first place.”
USDA reports that as of Nov. 22, Louisiana cotton harvest was 96 percent complete, compared to 99 percent in 2008, while Tennessee harvest stood at 82 percent complete, compared to 99 percent by the same time in 2008.
USDA reported nearly 5 million bales of cotton ginned by Nov. 15, compared to 6.8 million bales by the same time in 2008, 10 million in 2007, and 11.8 million in 2006.