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Cotton Yields Hurt By A Lack Of Rain
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A dry growing season means Mississippi cotton matured a lot faster than normal, but with this early maturing came reduced yields.
Will McCarty, cotton specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said cotton is being harvested three weeks earlier than normal this year.
"I don't like to see much cotton defoliated and picked prior to the first of September because that's an indication we're giving up on some of our growing season," McCarty said. "This year, we had some cotton picked around Aug. 18. By the first week of September, about 90 percent of the cotton in the state was mature enough to be defoliated, if it hadn't been already."
Heat and drought caused this early maturity. McCarty said cotton is commonly thought to be a desert plant, but it is actually more of a tropical plant native to Southern Mexico and Central America.
"Cotton can tolerate more hot and dry conditions that a lot of row crops, but that doesn't mean it will flourish under those conditions," McCarty said.
With drought all summer, the success of this year's crop depended on irrigation. McCarty estimated dryland cotton yields of 100 to 600 pounds an acre, and irrigated cotton to yield below average with 750 to 1,100 pounds an acre. Mississippi's five-year average is 744 pounds.
The Aug. 1 National Agricultural Statistics Service report estimated a Mississippi overall crop of 738 pounds an acre, but McCarty expects it to be much lower. 1999 average yields were just 704 pounds an acre.
In 1980, the year in recent history that most closely duplicates 2000, Mississippi harvested 1.1 million acres at an average 488 pounds an acre. With 200,000 more acres planted this year, much of this cotton grew on less productive land. Heat and drought compounded disadvantages.
"The odds of us having a good cotton crop are very bad," McCarty said. "It's still too early to get a handle on quality, but I anticipate seeing short staple cotton, which means growers may receive additional discounts when they sell."
With prices lower than they were at planting, it seems the only good news was that insect pressure was fairly light this year, allowing farmers to make their crop a little bit cheaper.
Jimbo Burkhalter, area Extension agent in Tallahatchie County, said his county planted 80,500 acres of cotton with less than half of it irrigated. He described anticipated yields as not being a brag crop, but tolerable.
"Our irrigated cotton is going to have pretty good yields, but I believe our averages are going to go down," Burkhalter said. "By the Fourth of July, our unirrigated cotton could have been a record year, but we haven't had any rain to speak of since then and the cotton just hasn't put on the fruit and developed like it should have had we gotten just one or two rains."
Variety selection was important this year, as some varieties proved themselves to be more heat tolerant than others and performed better.