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Cotton's Mixed Bag Torments Growers
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Weather has been a constant challenge for Mississippi's cotton growers.
Rain delayed most of the crop's planting time two to three weeks. Next, continued rains and cool weather slowed initial growth. Fields in Northeast Mississippi have suffered the most.
"We're looking at the good, the bad and the being destroyed," said Dr. Will McCarty, extension cotton specialist at Mississippi State University. "Most poorly drained fields have drowned out. Whenever farmers can get in those fields, they will likely replant in soybeans, if possible."
Cotton in well-drained fields is growing fast and has regained lost time since the hot temperatures arrived. Even so, precious little of the state's crop is blooming by the first week in July.
"The late bloom will mean the plants may not have enough hot weather to set as much fruit as normal," McCarty said. "That will make insect control even more important to protect every boll out there. Fields with irrigation will need to take advantage of their supplemental water if, or when, drought conditions arrive."
McCarty said cotton's next battles will be heat/drought stress and insect pressure.
"Rains have made the plants very vulnerable to heat and drought conditions," he said.
Prentiss County agricultural agent Dalton Garner said all but about 500 of the county's 2,400 acres of cotton will be plowed under and soybeans planted in its place.
"We had more than 20 inches of rain from Memorial weekend until the end of June," Garner said. "Combined with the cool temperatures, plants' root systems are very weak. Fields are way behind with very few squares by the first of July."
Garner said state extension specialists played vital roles in helping producers and crop adjusters determine a field's potential for reaching maturity.
"Extension specialists have worked real hard with area farmers to help them make sound management decisions," Garner said.
Across the state, John Coccaro, area cotton specialist in Sharkey County, said South Delta cotton is looking remarkably good.
"We were late planting and slow growing off because of cool weather, but the last couple of weeks have been ideal," Coccaro said. "We have some of the best soil moisture going into July I've seen in several years."
Coccaro said weather conditions and related seedling disease resulted in some thin stands. Fortunately, cotton compensates in thin stands and can produce more bolls per plant.
"Much of this crop's success will depend on the weather and insect pressure in late July and August," Coccaro said. "Boll weevils have been somewhat of a threat and could cause late season problems."