A wet, windy August finally gave way to a sunny, open fall for Mid-South cotton producers. The result is a harvest which should be complete by mid-November. But yield reports aren’t quite holding up to UDSA projections, according to state Extension cotton specialists. Here’s more:

“From what growers are telling me, we’re off 200 to 300 pounds from last year. USDA still has us at 1,125 pounds, but we’re not going to get that,” said Arkansas Extension cotton specialist Tom Barber.

Barber characterizes the crop as average at best. “It’s not what’s it’s been the last couple of years. We’re averaging two bales on fields that usually average 1,200 pounds.”

The lower yields are due to a cool start to the season, “when cotton struggled to get going. We just had a late crop. Then all the cloudy and rainy weather in August was not conducive to producing an excellent crop.”

On the other hand, Barber has been surprised by the quality of the Arkansas cotton crop. “I was expecting the quality of the cotton from southeast Arkansas to be poor because of all the water. But it’s a lot better. The latest quality report had us averaging a high 35 on staple length, micronaire is where it needs to be, and the color grade is good too.”

The Arkansas cotton crop was a little over 70 percent harvested by the end of October, according to Barber. “We should be finished in two to three weeks. Everybody wants to be out before Thanksgiving.”

Whether or not falling fuel prices are helping reduce the cost of harvesting depends mostly on when fuel stocks were purchased, “but we’ll take anything we can get right now,” Barber said.

According to Mississippi Extension cotton specialist Darrin Dodds, cotton yields in Mississippi are a mixed bag. “As you get into the south Delta, a lot of those farmers were hit with boll rot and hard lock problems like Louisiana. I’ve talked to some producers who feel like they left a bale to the acre on the plant. But they were still picking 800 pounds to 900 pounds.”

Farmers in the northern part of Mississippi “are making some good yields. I’ve talked to producers making 1,100 pounds to 1,200 pounds of cotton. I’ve even heard of a couple of fields going 1,600 pounds.”

Dodds says as of late October, Mississippi growers were about 70 percent harvested. “We’ll get a good portion of the rest knocked out in the next week to 10 days if the weather holds up.”

Harvest is moving a little slower in the Hill section of the state, according to Dodds. “I’ve talked to a few farmers last week who haven’t put a picker in the field yet. They are so far behind because of less than optimal spring weather. But with the amount of acres we have in the Hills, once they get the pickers going, they’ll get it harvested pretty quickly.”

Dodds believes cotton acreage will likely slip again in 2009. “But if these grain prices keep going down, it might not slip as far as it would have. The problem is the price of cotton. That’s not doing us any favors at all.”

According to Sandy Stewart, Extension cotton specialist for Louisiana, the state has harvested most of its cotton crop, and is now into double-cropped and later planted cotton. “Since we’ve gotten into the later cotton, the yields have come up a little bit. But there is still not a lot of really good cotton out there. The best cotton I’ve heard about is in the two-bale range.

“The big story is how many acres are not going to be harvested that had to be destroyed (because of damage from hurricanes Gustav and Ike). It’s a large number, centered around Catahoula, Avoyelles, Concordia and southern Tensas parishes. It’s total deterioration. Overall, we’re still short a lot of cotton.”

Stewart says early reports that as much as 50 percent of the Louisiana crop was lost due to hurricanes and wet weather is proving to be a good estimate. “USDA’s forecast has our yields in the high 500s, but I think that will probably come down a little.”

USDA estimates Louisiana cotton yields at 591 pounds per acre, compared to 1,017 pounds in 2007.

Much of the early cotton crop has graded out with high micronaire and short staple, according to Stewart, but the quality of the later-planted cotton has improved, especially the color grades. “We’ve had only one short, rainy spell since Hurricane Ike.”

Stewart says cotton acreage in the state will likely take another tumble in 2009. “Cotton is a more expensive crop to grow and for many producers, it may come down to a financing issue.”

According to USDA, Tennessee’s cotton crop has rebounded significantly from 2007. Average yield is now projected at 840 pounds per acre, compared to 565 pounds last year.

Missouri’s cotton yield is projected at 1,048 pounds compared to 968 pounds last year.

According to Chris Main, Extension cotton specialist for Tennessee, “beyond a few plant bug and stink bug sprays, we’ve produced a fairly economical crop. We had a couple of rains for the few acres that are irrigated, and let us shut down irrigation for a couple of weeks.”

Main says that some cotton producers plan to reduce acres even further in 2009, however, “some of our bigger producers who have dropped a lot of acres the last two years are going to come back up 15 percent to 20 percent. This year, they’re riding their pickers and remembering why they grow cotton.”

Nationwide, about 40 percent of the U.S. cotton crop had been harvested by Oct. 26, compared to 47 percent a year ago and a five-year average of 45 percent.

In the Mid-South, harvest is around 70 percent complete in most states, but is lagging behind last year’s pace in Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Missouri. Louisiana, at 93 percent complete, is ahead of last year’s pace and the five-year average.

e-mail: erobinson@farmpress.com