STARKVILLE, Miss. -- While other Delta Extension specialists are optimistic about their states' cotton crops, none approach Will McCarty's glowing assessment.
"I don't want to lose my reputation as the 'poor-mouthing king,' but there's a good chance that we could have a state record crop," he says. "We just need to finish getting it out of the field. If we had had a warmer September and October to drive some of this cotton a little more, there's no telling what sort of crop we'd have made."
McCarty says Mississippi is probably 60 percent or more picked. South of Highway 82, producers are 80 percent-plus done.
"It's gone fast. I know some growers who aren't only through picking, but also through ginning."
How are the grades being reported?
"It depends on where you are. I've got one area of great concern. It looks like the cotton grown in south Mississippi is short staple. Cotton in the central Delta region has a few blips, although nothing to be alarmed about. But there are some areas with a little more high-micronaire/short staple then we like to see with the growing environment we had."
Currently, harvest is "full speed ahead" with a couple of exceptions. The second week of October, there were some showers in the south Delta and the lower hill area. High humidity and fog caused some trouble in the rest of the Delta, but that has hardly slowed pickers down, says McCarty. "It's coming out of the field."
The specialist also says reports are that all varieties are turning out extremely well at the gin. "The ginners I'm talking to are finding this cotton is running anywhere from 550 pounds to less than 750 pounds of seed per bale. We should be getting between 750 pounds and 850 pounds of seed. Across the board, it appears that all varieties are ginning in the farmers' favor. I talked to one ginner who'd ginned about 2,000 bales — all of it big-seeded varieties. On those bales he averaged 695 pounds of seed."
While Mississippi's cotton appears excellent for the most part, the hill area gives McCarty pause. "We still have quite a bit of cotton in the north Delta and the northeast that's fairly late due to the rains. For all practical purposes, the cotton is through, though. It's grown all it's going to. The weather shut some fields down earlier than we'd hoped and it's definitely going to hurt some Mississippi growers.
"After the cool temps we had last week, the cotton turned red. Now, we've got to quickly figure out how to get the leaves off and the bolls open. Unfortunately, some of this cotton won't open very well. That may mean some scrapping going on."
So the late cotton — probably 25 percent — is still a major concern. Less than 10 percent (less than 100,000 acres) is seriously late, though, says McCarty. Those with extremely late cotton face a tough task in defoliation.
"You can't expect a defoliant to work as fast now as it did in September. Defoliation is a physiological event. The plant must be carrying on active metabolic activity to make it grow fast. When that metabolic activity is slowed, defoliation and boll opening will be slow.
"These cool temps are making these leaves act like old, tough leaves. That means we'll be going to a lot of phosphate defoliants. We'll be using them at the medium to upper rates of the labels."
As in other Delta states, Mississippi growers are seeing similar boll maturity over the entire cotton plant. And the bolls aren't open anywhere.
"We're trying to take the leaves off cotton that's less than 20 percent open. That's a little different. If we can get those top bolls open and get them in the basket, they'll contribute well — no doubt about it."
Regarding pests, the state had plant bugs all season.
"I'm telling you, I think we invented the plant bug," says McCarty. "On some of the late cotton we took them on a time or two. We had a significant problem killing them later on. I'd say that plant bugs received more attention and cost more to control than any other pest."
Despite the potential of Mississippi's extremely late cotton to drag the overall yield down, McCarty remains pleased with the possibilities. "What I'm hoping is that by the time this hits the press, temperatures have dropped and the wind is out of the northwest, the skies are clear and the sun's shining. That would suit us just fine."