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Growers Picked Tough Year for More Cotton
STARKVILLE -- Cotton yields will not be what many growers dreamed of when they increased Mississippi's crop by 100,000 acres to take advantage of stronger prices. Higher than normal insect pressure and excessive heat have taken their toll.
"Preliminary yields do not look good," said Dr. Will McCarty, extension cotton specialist at Mississippi State University.
The Sept. 1 crop report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture brought bleak news on the expectations for Mississippi's crop.
"The September report estimates 480,000 fewer bales of cotton for Mississippi than the August report predicted," McCarty said. "The pounds per acre expectation dropped 158 pounds. I can't remember the crop reporting service ever dropping us that much in one month."
The cotton specialist said the news could get worse as the season finishes.
"There is no doubt that the severe, continuous heat in July, August and early September has taken a heavy toll on the crop," McCarty said.
Dr. Blake Layton, extension entomologist at MSU, said the state had faced the risk of catastrophic tobacco budworm numbers for several years because of high levels of insecticide resistance.
"The extremely high numbers in 1995 turned that risk into reality," Layton said. "This risk will exist again next year because we still will have problems with insecticide resistance. Severe winter temperatures will help reduce the danger."
The entomologist said because of the cyclic nature of these insects next year hopefully will be less severe.
"We seldom have two back-to-back years of insect populations at these levels of a pest like this," he said.
Layton said natural predators and parasites increase with high numbers of an insect and help knock the numbers back down. He said the damage to the 1995 crop is done. Growers are no longer applying insecticides as the tobacco budworms prepare to overwinter in the ground.
In Forrest County, where cotton is a new crop, growers are anxious to harvest and see the bottom line.
"We're one of the few counties that haven't had tobacco budworm problems, but we've had everything else -- bollworms, beet armyworms, yellow-striped armyworms and even loopers," said Lee Taylor, Forrest County agricultural agent. "Last fall's eradication efforts helped keep boll weevils from becoming a factor this year."
Taylor said growers turned to cotton as marketing of soybeans and corn became less attractive. He said 1995 has been a good year for cotton.
Otis Davis, Madison County agent, said growers began harvesting cotton slightly earlier because of the dry conditions. The drought is causing lighter seeds and smaller bolls.
"Insects were a tremendous expense to growers throughout Madison County," Davis said. "Cotton prices probably will entice growers to return to cotton again next year."
Growers throughout the southeast continue to await word on disaster assistance from the federal and state governments as a result of tobacco budworm damage.