The Mid-South cotton crop threw off a good bit of fruit in late July and early August as the region alternately battled hot temperatures and cloudy weather. Even so, the experts say a better than average crop is still possible, although it's shaping up to be a budget buster for cash-strapped cotton producers.
Here's more from Mid-South cotton specialists:
Spotty rains during the first week in August helped some, “but some fields got only a tenth of an inch or none at all,” said Extension cotton specialist Chism Craig. “I talked to a producer this morning who said if he didn't get a rain soon, it would severely affect his yield. We're at the stage now where rain can make a lot of crop.”
The crop is still holding onto a more than adequate boll load, despite increased shedding, according to Craig. “We've been trying to remain calm about the shed. It was kind of expected. We had a tremendous fruit load going into bloom and we knew we couldn't hold it all.”
Hot weather, then cloudy weather from the remnants of Hurricane Dennis were the big causes of shed, “plus a lot of cotton got big on us.”
There is still an opportunity for this year's crop to approach last year's record yield, “but that doesn't mean a thing,” Craig said. “I wouldn't have given you 600 or 700 pounds for last year's crop at this time. It completely fooled us because we had such a good August and September.”
This year's crop has been expensive with increased fertilizer and fuel costs slicing into budgets, as well as the usual technology fees.
The majority of the Tennessee cotton crop was planted in a two-week period from May 5 to May 20, meaning growers will have to hustle at harvest. “We have so much of one particular variety that is very early-maturing. It's all going to have to be picked in a two-week timeframe.”
Fruit shed has been widespread across Louisiana, varieties, cultural practices, layby herbicides, etc., according to cotton specialist Sandy Stewart.
The fruit “has come off significantly in a lot of fields. We think that's going to turn around. We're getting some cooler nights.”
Stewart says Louisiana cotton producers carried extremely high retention into the first week of July. “We had retained almost every fruiting position in a lot of fields. We went through some dry periods, wet periods and a lot of high day and nighttime temperatures.
“Even though we've lost some positions, our crop is still in decent shape. We have many acres devoted to full-season varieties again this year. Weather is going to play a big factor from here on out. We need a good August and September.”
The last effective bloom date for Louisiana cotton producers is Aug. 20 to Aug. 25, “so we still have some time to finish setting the top crop.”
Missouri Bootheel cotton Extension specialist Bobby Phipps, who is retiring this month, thinks the Missouri cotton crop is shaping up nicely, although the state's dryland cotton is hurting a bit.
“We haven't had much square shed. I thought for a while that as dry as it's been, it might cut out early, but it's doing okay. We haven't had many insects, and haven't had to spray much plant growth regulator. So it's been a relatively cheap crop for the growers. It won't beat last year's record crop though.”
Hurricane Dennis dropped about 4 inches of rainfall on the area, spread over two days, noted Phipps. “It couldn't have fallen any nicer.”
Although Phipps' replacement has not yet been named, the Delta Center will continue to run micronaire analyses to help growers time defoliation this season.
Phipps' retirement plans include landing the biggest bass in Lake Fork, Texas, which will be 6 miles from his new home. “I plan to do some consulting for seed companies. I don't intend to just fall off the face of the earth.”
“We just went through a period where we shed a lot of fruit on the fuller season varieties,” said Tom Barber, the state's Extension cotton specialist. “The earlier-maturing varieties seem to be holding up a little better.”
The fruit shed was expected, according to Barber. “We had a heavy fruit load when we had higher temperatures and the plant just couldn't hold it all.”
There is still enough season to recoup the losses. “Everything is looking good, especially where we have irrigation. Our dryland cotton has not done well this year, especially in the north Delta.”
The Hill area of Mississippi has benefited from more rainfall, but has not escaped boll shed either. “I don't think we'll have a record crop, but it will be a little above average. I'd rather look at the fuller season varieties on Sept. 1, instead of right now.”
On the downside, there is a lot of money in this crop, according to Barber. “We had spider mite shots early, then the pumping and fertilizer costs. We need the high yields to offset the high costs.”
A half-inch to 2 inches of rain fell in the central part of the state during the first week in August. “That gave us a little bit of a break,” said cotton specialist Bill Robertson.
“I took a lot of calls on one particular variety with a lot more boll shed than others. Our variety demonstrations indicated that the shed is consistent across all varieties.”
Robertson says Arkansas growers were “really pushing the crop. The combination of that, cloudy weather and raining into the flowers were a big reason for a lot of the shed. But I've talked to some growers who say it's continuing to shed.”
Robertson estimates that the crop will be above the 10-year average yield for Arkansas, perhaps around the 900-pound mark. “If we could get some good weather to finish out the season, we could stretch that to the mid-900s.”
Energy consumption for irrigation has pushed costs higher, noted Robertson. “Insect pressures have been light overall, although spider mites have been a thorn in growers' sides, especially north of I-40.
The cost of the crop worries Robertson. “I hate to be all gloom and doom, but I've heard that farmers have gone back to their bankers and asked for more money more than once, and we're not even to defoliation yet. It's not a pretty picture right now.”