USDA’s latest forecast for Arkansas cotton has yield at 1,032 pounds. If realized, that would be the state’s second best crop ever. Based on what he’s seeing in the field, Bill Robertson isn’t buying it.

“I hate to disagree with them, but that’s way too optimistic,” says the Arkansas Extension cotton specialist. “Strictly looking at boll numbers, I wouldn’t doubt the counts are better than they were last year when we went through a big shed. And I’m surprised plants this year are still holding bolls as well as they are.

“But with these high temperatures, we’ve got bunches of oddly-shaped, parrot-beak bolls. Those are all over the state and I don’t think we’ll have as much cotton in the bolls as we did last year.”

What is Robertson hearing from farmers? What’s the general mindset as harvest approaches?

“The cost of diesel is a killer. Growers have some serious bills racked up.

“Thank goodness many of the bills haven’t come from insecticides. We’re beginning to see some worms but, all in all, those costs have been light. Fuel costs are the bugaboo.”

The cotton crop, facing relentless high temperatures, is hanging in a lot better than Robertson thought it would.

“I see some good fields with many, nice-shaped bolls. But, on the flip-side, I see many fields with weird, flat-sided bolls — they just look sickly. A lot of that has to do with the high temperatures.

“In the end, I don’t know what’s in the bolls. I pop some open and some of the seed haven’t pollinated. Other seed began to develop and then stopped. That’s raising a red flag to me in terms of yield potential. Sheer numbers of bolls are hanging in, though.”

For a state average, “I don’t see us breaking 900 pounds if the high day and night temperatures hang on through August. I reckon we’ll see 850 or a little higher. Over the last couple of years, we’ve had great falls. If we get another one with timely rains to finish the top crop out — and this crop is much earlier than normal — we could see 900 pounds to 950 pounds. But how many years in a row can we get lucky that way? Hopefully, one more.”

Robertson still has concerns for the plethora of 2,4-D drift-damaged cotton in east Arkansas.

“The older cotton seems to be growing out of it pretty well. The younger cotton that was showing a lot more symptomology may have some yield reduction. I still don’t know exactly how it’ll play out.”

The most disturbing thing about the situation is the sheer number of acres affected.

“It was amazing how much cotton was hit — thousands upon thousands of acres. There are obviously regulations in place to help avoid an inversion situation. Ford Baldwin (an Arkansas-based consultant and Delta Farm Press contributor) addressed this in his recent columns and I think his comments were on the money.

“I thought the rules put in place by the Arkansas Plant Board — watching the increase in temperatures from the morning low and having a slight wind — provided a great chance of avoiding an inversion.

“I don’t know if there were any illegal applications or not. If there weren’t and that big of an inversion happened anyway, my thinking is amended and we need to re-evaluate those regulations. Without that, a situation could occur that devastates yields over significant acreage.”

e-mail: dbennett@farmpress.com