A rainy weather pattern has soaked fields, wet cotton fiber and slowed the cotton harvest in the central and northeast parts of Louisiana.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that only 7 percent of the cotton has been harvested in Louisiana as of Sept. 24,” said LSU AgCenter cotton specialist Sandy Stewart.

The five-year average is 24 percent by Sept. 24.

Sunshine will help improve field conditions and dry and fluff the cotton fibers on the plants. In the meantime, the crop in the field can lose yield and quality the longer it is exposed to adverse environmental conditions, said Donnie Miller, associate professor at the LSU AgCenter’s Northeast Research Station in St. Joseph, La.

Miller said dry conditions earlier in the season meant cotton didn’t grow well and take up nitrogen fertilizer. The rains came after July 4.

As the season gets later, cotton takes longer to dry, and hours available for field work decrease, said Stewart.

Harvesting has been difficult because many areas have had more rainy days than dry days.

“Rains during hurricanes Katrina and Rita moved out more quickly than some of the five-day rainy periods that occurred this year,” said Stewart.

Most cotton farmers should finish harvesting their crops by the end of October, but some harvesting may trickle into November, Stewart said. Miller believes the northeast area of Louisiana will finish before the end of October.

Stewart predicts more than 324,000 acres of cotton will be harvested this year in Louisiana compared with 600,119 acres in 2006.

The northwestern part of the state was less affected by inclement weather.

The first bale of cotton harvested in Caddo Parish is traditionally auctioned to signify the start of the cotton harvest. This year’s bale was planted on April 23 and harvested Sept. 13 by Kent Carlisle, a third-generation farmer from Dixie, La., who began farming in 1988.

The cotton variety is Stoneville 4554 Bollgard II Roundup Ready Flex.

The auction will be held Thursday, Oct. 4, at 10 a.m. at the LSU AgCenter Caddo Extension Office at 2408 East 70th St. in Shreveport, La.