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State Produces Lowest Cotton Yields Since '95
By Crystel Bailey
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- After a summer of extreme heat and dry conditions, Mississippi cotton farmers now battle low yields, low quality and low prices.
Will McCarty, cotton specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said dry weather helped mature cotton faster, which is why more than 90 percent of harvest was complete in Mississippi by the end of October. Typically, harvest is 84 percent complete by this time. Because cotton matured early, yields and quality suffered.
"The year 2000 is the first time Mississippi cotton growers have made less than 700 pounds per acre since 1995," McCarty said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture crop report released Oct. 12 estimated Mississippi's cotton crop at 638 pounds of lint per acre. Mississippi farmers harvested 704 pounds of lint per acre in 1999 due to last year's drought, compared to the five-year average of 745 pound per acre.
"Not only was yield reduced by weather, but quality was hurt as well. The overall quality of the 2000 cotton crop is below average for Mississippi," McCarty said.
Extension agents in Bolivar, Monroe and Sharkey counties all said prices have suffered from low quality. Of those three counties, Monroe, which irrigates only 1 percent of its cotton, suffered most with low yields due to the drought.
"We have about 17,000 acres of cotton harvested this year and averaged about 350 pounds of lint per acre," said Charlie Stokes, Monroe County Extension agent.
Don Respess, Bolivar County Extension agent, said his county harvested about 72,000 acres of cotton and produced about 700 pounds of lint per acre.
While Sharkey County cotton has lower quality this year, the number of acres harvested has doubled since 1998, despite dry conditions. John Coccaro, Sharkey County Extension agent, said Sharkey land is generally very productive and does well under any conditions.
"We usually lead cotton yields in the state, with about 900 acres of lint per acre, but this year we averaged around 700 pounds of lint per acre," Coccaro said.
Despite high yields, the county will still be hurt financially. "Since we have such productive land, our farmers probably put more inputs into the cotton crop, which increases the costs of production," Coccaro said.
Farmers across the state are hurting from low prices compounded by discounts because the quality of the crop was reduced by heat and drought that shortened and weakened fibers.
"Probably the average bale of cotton is priced 3 to 5 cents per pound below average, which totals about a $25 deduction per bale. The deductions can really add up for cotton farmers with 1,500 or more acres," Cocarro said.
The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service said cotton averaged about 60 cents per pound during the week ending Oct. 19, which is about 10 cents more than the same week a year ago. However, the 10-cent increase does not reflect grade deductions or deficiency payments.