BATON ROUGE, La. – The recent rains soaked fields, wet down the cotton fiber and temporarily stopped the cotton harvest in the Pelican State.

"The cotton harvest is about 60 percent complete and should be finished soon if the weather cooperates and farmers are able to return to the fields," said LSU AgCenter cotton specialist Sandy Stewart.

Two severe weather events traveled through the cotton-producing areas of the state early this month and produced extensive rainfall.

The first was a cold front around Oct. 4-5, which led to 4 inches of rain in the Alexandria area and similar amounts elsewhere.

Then Tropical Storm Matthew came through this past weekend. Resulting rainfall amounts ranged from 2.8 inches in Columbia to 8.5 inches in Lake Providence on Oct. 8-10, according to Barry Keim, the Louisiana State climatologist at LSU.

"We are fortunate the rain and wind were not hard enough to cause the cotton to come loose from the plant and fall to ground," Stewart said. "But the soaking rain can sometimes stain lint and reduce the grade on the crop remaining in the field."

On the other hand, the experts say cotton farmers were fortunate to have dry weather in September – which was favorable for cotton production and made up for some of the losses that occurred in the early season because of unusually high rainfall.

Statewide, this was the driest September since 1953, Keim said.

Moving to better news for farmers, the experts say sunny skies and lower temperatures are forecast for the next few days for many of the cotton-growing areas of the state.

The sunny skies should help improve field conditions and dry and fluff the cotton fibers on the plants, according to Stewart, who said, with good drying conditions, some farmers in the state should return to the field in a few days.

"Unfortunately, the lower temperatures will slow activity of harvest aids on the portion of the crop that has not been defoliated," Stewart said, however.

"This year, producing cotton has been a challenge – with the early season flooding and prolonged rains restricting field work," the LSU AgCenter experts said. "But the dry weather in September helped improve growing conditions for the crop."

Depending upon the weather conditions, most cotton farmers should finish harvesting their crops by early November, Stewart said.

LSU AgCenter experts predict more than 490,000 acres of cotton will be harvested this year.

Cotton usually is harvested in the state during September and October. Last year, Louisiana cotton farmers harvested an all-time state record yield of lint – a crop that contributed more than $342.6 million to the state’s economy in 2003.

For more information on cotton, as well as other information related to other agricultural crops, economic issues, family life, nutrition and a variety of other topics, visit www.lsuagcenter.com

John Chaney writes for LSU AgCenter.

e-mail: jchaney@agcenter.lsu.edu