A couple of weeks of clear weather helped the Mississippi cotton crop overcome some of the problems created by boll rot and pre-harvest seed sprouting. But there is still extensive, and irreversible, damage to the crop, according to Mississippi Extension cotton specialist Will McCarty.
“The sunshine, hotter temperatures and low humidity we got last week (week of Sept. 10) fluffed some of the cotton back out and bleached some of it out. It's also helped dry down the seed,” McCarty said.
McCarty said that some of the affected cotton has been picked and bolls which have recently opened in the top of the plant are being mixed with the affected cotton, “and the seed grades are not coming out quite as bad as we thought.”
McCarty said the challenge for cotton producers is getting cotton dry, out of the field and into the gin. The long rains also contributed to significant regrowth in the field, noted McCarty.
“Getting the cotton defoliated is a real battle for us right now. Most of the cotton picked in the state is moduled. If cotton goes in the module wet, it's going to heat up which further deteriorates the grades. Seed cotton moisture needs to be less than 12 percent.”
The specialist said it's still too early to quantify the damage that high humidity and excessive rainfall had on the crop. “There are still some fields out there that are in pretty bad shape. The most serious damage was from Hwy. 8 south in our earlier-planted cotton and our earlier-maturing varieties. That makes up a large percentage of our cotton, so a lot of the cotton in the central to lower part of the state was affected.”
McCarty said that production methods, the size of the cotton and row-spacing had little impact on the severity of the boll rot/seed germination problem. “It was a big (plant-size) crop, but what I'm noticing is that the problem is in the good-managed cotton and the poor-managed cotton.
“It all depended on how open the cotton was when the rains hit. Another complicating issue was that the rain was spread over 15-20 days and every day, the relative humidity was extremely high. If it was a weather system that dumped this much rain on us over a couple of days and then we had bright, sunny weather behind, we would not have seen this damage. It would have been beaten up, but it would not have deteriorated.”
McCarty noted that while farmers, “will fight the battle, their mood is not nearly as good as it was 4-5 weeks ago when we were looking at extremely high potential yields.”
In addition, “we're going into a very uncertain time. If this battle against terrorism escalates, it's going to consume quite a bit of federal funds. So growers are concerned about the future support of agriculture.”
According Jay Grymes, a climatologist with the Southern Regional Climate Center, “The outlook for the upcoming months is a return to the expectation of a fairly typical fall and early winter. As we get into latter winter, especially close to the coast, there may be a tendency for slightly wetter to wetter than normal conditions.”
According to Grymes, normal means that September and October, “ tend to be drier periods of the year, with monthly rain totals of around 3-inches. Temperatures are going to start slipping a little bit. By the time we get into mid-to late-October, we're looking at daytime highs in the mid to upper 70s.
“The question I can't answer is whether it's going to be dry enough, long enough,” for Mid-South agriculture to complete their harvests.