CLARKSDALE, MISS. -- A wet spring, dry summer and a cool August seemed like major setbacks for cotton production on Stovall Farms, near Clarksdale in 2003. But by the time the pickers had rolled into the shop for the winter, farm manager Pete Hunter was more than satisfied with yields, quality and profit margins.

In October, Hunter figured that a yield of 1,000 pounds to 1,050 pounds "would be an answered prayer. The cotton is just not as strong as it was last year. We had too much rain early and a cool snap in August and September that slowed the crop down."

In addition, "I wasn't lucky enough to get some of the rain that others around me received, which hurt some of my dryland cotton," said Hunter, who planted DP 555 BG/RR, SG 215 BG/RR, PM 1218 BG/RR and DP 444 BG/RR on 3,276 acres.

But by the time the gin reports were in, the farm's luck had taken a turn for the better — with the help of some good weather through mid-November. One 126-acre block of DP 444 BG/RR yielded 1,418 pounds, which did not include a round of scrapping, which might have pushed yields over 1,500 pounds, Hunter noted.

"My PM 1218 BG/RR did pretty good, too. My best field went 1,430 pounds. But I did get a considerable amount of high mike late in the season.

"My DP 555 BG/RR performed well on my heavy ground," Hunter added. "One field went 1,149 pounds, and a block of 260 acres went 1,061. In 2002, I had some DP 555 BG/RR that picked 1,320 pounds on buckshot, and that was after a big rain and some of it was on the ground."

Average yields for 2003 came in around 1,050 pounds. In 2002, timely rains and plenty of heat units during the season pushed the overall average to 1,125 pounds. This year's yield might have approached that level had it not been for the sub-par performance of one variety.

"There were some people in this area who did well with the SG 215 BG/RR — there were some 1,100 pound yields. But for us, it didn't pick well and it didn't yield well."

On the other hand, Hunter stressed that he didn't give the variety "the same shake" he gave others, due to some things he was asked to do for seed production.

"I was in a very demanding seed program on the DP 444 BG/RR. My SG 215 BG/RR was not planted as early as it was on other farms. I planted DP 555 BG/RR first, then the DP 444 BG/RR. Normally, I would plant the SG 215 before the DP 444 BG/RR.

"Also, I got started planting the SG 215 BG/RR, then the rains kicked in and held me out for 10 days. Then, the cool August hammered it."

Hunter keeps good yield and quality records on each variety and for good reason. "Every pound of yield makes $2,200 for this farm." After reviewing the performance of this year's cultivars, Hunter is going with DP 555 BG/RR on heavy to mixed ground in 2004 and DP 1218 BG/RR and DP 444 BG/RR on the balance.

Hunter noted that the fiber quality of DP 444 BG/RR, which Delta and Pine Land Co. is touting as a replacement for PM 1218 BG/RR "was extremely good. I had one bale with low mike."

"All of my DP 555 BG/RR and DP 444 BG/RR was premium cotton. My PM 1218 BG/RR started off good, but as I got deeper into the harvest season, I started getting high mike."

The producer "did not have any horrendous discounts, but let me tell you what, there is not a whole lot of cotton you can plant late that will yield like PM 1218 BG/RR does. I have always felt like 1218's yield overcame the discounts for mike."

A very aggressive marketing plan allowed Stovall Farms to capture excellent cotton prices in 2003. "We didn't get the absolute high, but we priced some around 76 cents. That is certainly going to change the bottom line. There is a lot of money to be made in the market this year, if you are astute in it."

Production expenses were about average — a little over budget, noted Hunter. The cool weather in August and September pushed Hunter's defoliation costs up, "which contributed to some of the budget overage."

And he had to finish the season with three cotton pickers instead of four. One succumbed to a fire after its brakes locked up en route to a field.

But the good yields and high price received will just about insure a profit for the operation. "And the outlook for next year is also good, with more farmers in the county and the state planting cotton. It's going to stimulate our local economy, I promise you."

e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com