Rain fell at opportune times for cotton producers in the Missouri Bootheel this season, turning a near catastrophe into one of the best crops ever, according to Bobby Phipps, Extension cotton specialist for Missouri.

That was Phipps' assessment after Missouri producers appeared to have once again missed the brunt of a tropical storm, Lili, that played havoc with crops in other parts of the Mid-South. Growers in Tennessee weren't quite as fortunate, specialists say.

“The crop is looking pretty good,” said Phipps. “We just need some dry weather so we can pick. Most of it is defoliated and looks real good.” On the other hand, he says, “a lot of leaves have stuck on the crop this time, and regrowth is the worst I've seen for Missouri.”

As of Oct. 7, about a third of the southeast Missouri crop had been harvested, with above average yields reported. With weather forecasts favorable for getting back in the field “It looks like we're going to get a lot picked this week,” Phipps said.

Grades, however, may be less than desirable “with all the moisture we've been getting. We may have more 42s and 43s.”

USDA is projecting an 800-pound yield for the Bootheel, 150 pounds above average. Phipps believes the final yield — if the weather holds — could be 775 pounds to 800 pounds. “We're going to have a good crop, although it's been an expensive crop. On June 1, I thought we had a horrible crop in the making (due to a cold, wet planting season).”

In Tennessee, meanwhile, recent rains have hurt cotton yield and quality, delayed harvesting and put some low lying cotton fields under water, according to Tennessee Extension cotton specialist Chism Craig.

Tropical storms Isidore and Lili “put us behind,” Craig said. “We should be close to 40-50 percent picked by now.” About 25 percent of the west Tennessee cotton crop was picked as of Oct. 7, with about 75 percent defoliated.

“The storms have also knocked some cotton on the ground, and our grades aren't going to be as good,” Craig said. “We have some cotton that is stained and spotted.”

Craig noted that some farmers in the area decided to wait for the tropical storms to pass before knocking leaves off their cotton “thinking they'd be better off with the leaves on,” he said. “But for a while there, it seemed like every time we'd get back in the field picking, we'd run into another storm.

Rainfall that fell over much of the north Delta over the first weekend in October was minimal in west Tennessee, according to Craig, “and we have some farmers who will try to get started picking again on Oct. 8. We have a pretty decent forecast for the next few days.”

Tropical storms also flooded many low-lying cotton fields, according to Craig. The specialist is currently surveying county agents to determine the extent of the damage. One agent reported 4,000 acres lost in Crockett County.

Craig estimates that west Tennessee will yield around 600 pounds of cotton this year compared to last year's state record crop of 763 pounds. Unfortunately, Mother Nature was less than generous in her allocation of rainfall this season.

“The areas where we see good yields are the counties where we only have 25,000 acres to 35,000 acres of cotton,” he said. “The areas where we have the majority of our cotton in Crockett, Haywood, Lauderdale, Dyer and Gibson stayed pretty dry this summer.”


e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com