What looked like one of the best crops in years in the Stoneville area began to go downhill fast when extended periods of heavy rainfall in late August and the Labor Day weekend combined with high humidity levels to cause widespread boll rot, seed germinating in the burr and associated problems.
Until then, Mississippi farmers had been on track to harvest the second largest crop in the state’s history.
“This is the worst cotton disaster I have ever seen,” says Bill Meredith, geneticist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Stoneville. “We had a bad year in 1984, but it wasn’t nearly this bad and it wasn’t nearly as widespread.”
According to Meredith, an unbelievable 14.15 inches of rain fell on the Stoneville, Miss. area since Aug. 1. “Our rainfall total for August and the first part of September is the highest we’ve had here as long as they’ve been keeping records. And to make matters worse, we’ve also had high temperatures and high humidity levels.
Meredith said that the Stoneville complex recorded 8.47 inches of rainfall in August and another 5.68 inches of rainfall from the end of August to Sept. 3. Normal rainfall for the month of August is 2.27 inches.
“These environmental conditions have created all kinds of disasters for us,” he said. “Some of the cotton has blown on the ground, some of the cotton has lodged, some of the cotton has boll rot, and all of it has re-growth. The worst part of it is that all of the cotton that was open has seed germinating in the boll,” Meredith says. “All of the good early cotton is really devastated.”
Meredith said “We do know that once the affected cotton is harvested, it needs to be ginned as quickly as possible. Otherwise, the plant material that has germinated in the boll will begin to decay and that will result in heat in the module, or trailer, and off-color cotton.”
Another question mark that has yet to be answered is the value of this year’s crop of cottonseed. Meredith says the commercial companies that are producing seed are facing almost a complete loss of product and he’s not sure what other uses are available for seed with 10 to 20 percent germination.
Bill Kennedy with Duncan Gin in Inverness, Miss., about 20 miles east of Stoneville, agrees the market value for already germinated cottonseed is questionable and may or may not offset growers’ ginning costs. “We think much of this cotton is going to be ginnable, but the fiber quality is going to be poor,” he says.
“This is the fourth disaster year in a row for Delta cotton growers,” says USDA’s Meredith. “Just a few short weeks ago farmers were really feeling good about this crop and now they may not even have a crop to harvest. The gins are going to be very slow, equipment is going to be broken down and we’re going to run short of trailers for the harvested cotton. It’s a hurtful situation all around.”
How this devastation will translate into dollars is anyone’s guess, he said. “At 40 cents a pound without any discounts, one wonders if it’s going to be worth picking what is left out there. After the discounts are deducted it may cost more to harvest some of this cotton than it is worth.”