The USDA has slashed its forecast cotton yield for Arkansas to 938 pounds per acre, down sharply from its November estimate of 996 pounds per acre.

The latest figure is well off last year’s yield of 1,045 pounds per acre last year, but the current forecast isn’t a surprise considering the level of difficulty cotton producers faced this year, specialists with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture said.

“That was a pretty significant month-to-month drop in the state average yield estimate,” said Scott Stiles, Extension economist. “Some of the better cotton acreage and soils shifted to corn this year, not to mention boll rot, plant bugs and other pests.”

As growers make plans for 2012, “we could lose some cotton acreage to corn if there is favorable planting window for corn next spring.”   

“It’s been a tough year with floods, wind, sand, hail and cool weather late season,” said Tom Barber, Extension cotton agronomist. “The north had floods and the southern part of the state had drought. It’s not just one factor that affected cotton yields in 2011.”

Spring floods forced long delays in cotton planting. Many of the growers didn’t get the crop in until late May or early June. And being a tropical crop, cotton needs heat aplenty to develop. September’s relatively mild temperatures did nothing to speed the crop’s maturation.

“When you start out like we did in 2011, 900 pounds is a good year,” Barber said.

Then, there’s the sinking price of cotton. “It’s been going down with no immediate appearance of rebounding,” he said. “The market can change a lot of attitudes.”

Worse, abundant rain since late November has “hampered some of the gins,” said Blake McClelland, cotton verification coordinator. “They’ve had to slow way down to dry the cotton more than they would normally,” which has backed up deliveries from the field, where some cotton modules remain in the cold and damp.

All U.S. cotton production is forecast at 15.8 million 480-pound bales, down 3 percent from the November forecast and down 13 percent from last year, USDA said. Yield is expected to average 771 pounds per harvested acre, down 41 pounds from last year. Upland cotton production is forecast at 15.1 million 480-pound bales, down 14 percent from 2010.

For more information on crop production, visit www.uaex.edu, arkanascrops.com, or contact your local county Extension office.