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Growers Watch Cotton Prices, Setbacks Rise
By Bethany Waldrop Keiper
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- As state cotton growers keep an eye on rising cotton prices and river levels, they are planning strategies to battle insect pest attacks on the crop.
December futures currently are trading in the 82-cent to 83- cent range and have reached life-of-contract highs in the past week.
Dr. Bob Williams, interim state program leader for agriculture and natural resources at Mississippi State University, said several factors have boosted prices.
"The tight supply-demand situation relative to U.S. and world cotton has pushed up prices," Williams said. "Delayed plantings in Texas, Arkansas, Missouri and South Carolina also have been a boost for prices."
December futures are about 16 cents above the highest average annual price for the past 10 years. The USDA is predicting a 7 percent increase in both U.S. and world cotton production for 1995.
State cotton specialists are predicting tough battles with insects this year. The mild winter weather has allowed cotton pests to come back in full force for the 1995 growing season.
"If we look at the state's cotton crop with a wide angle view, it looks good overall -- off to a good start," said Dr. Will McCarty, extension cotton specialist at MSU. "But if we focus in on the crop, we see a lot of problems."
McCarty said boll weevils are not the only pest concern for many growers.
"Boll weevil numbers are high in traps and fields across the state, but there also are a lot of plantbugs in the Delta," McCarty said. "The plantbugs are now concentrated in other host crops, but when these crops die out, the plantbugs will move to cotton fields."
Thrips numbers also are high this year. Thrips can pose a threat to young cotton plants. Slowed growth in April left much of the state crop vulnerable to thrips.
"Boll weevil numbers are the highest I've ever seen," said Charlie Estess, area cotton specialist in Coahoma County. "Virtually all cotton will need pinhead square applications of pesticides."
Cotton plants set fruit during the pinhead square stage. Pinhead square applications also are planned for areas involved in the state's boll weevil eradication program.
"The boll weevil eradication management groups are planning two pinhead square applications on most of our cotton," said Dave Roberts, Monroe County agent. "Usually, we need one application, but high weevil numbers make two necessary."
As insect numbers continue to rise, so do the waters of the Mississippi River. The river is expected to crest in early June around Vicksburg.
"Several thousand acres of cotton along the river from Issaquena County to Wilkinson County will be totally lost to
flooding," McCarty said.
John Cocarro, cotton agent for Sharkey, Issaquena and Humphreys counties, said the river is expected to crest about 3 feet above the flood stage at Vicksburg.
"By the time the flood waters are gone, it will be too late to replant the cotton," Coccaro said.
More than 50 percent of the state's cotton crop was planted during May. Although May 1 is the official date to put boll weevil traps in fields, there is still time to get traps in fields.
Growers use information from boll weevil trapping to determine the need for pinhead square applications. Data from trapping also helps the Mississippi Boll Weevil Management Corporation plan more efficient eradication programs.