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Rains rob growers of best cotton crop
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi cotton farmers had what looked like the best crop in the history of the state until fall rains reduced yields and quality.
Will McCarty, cotton specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said the 2002 crop still promises to be above average, but the harvest was the wettest it has been in years. Rains destroyed some cotton on the plant and delayed farmers getting the rest out of the fields on time.
"We very easily could have made the best crop in Mississippi history on a yield per acre basis if the rain hadn't caught us," McCarty said.
Cotton has a 2002 projected value of production at $432 million, down 1.5 percent from the previous year. It ranks as the state's third largest commodity, behind poultry and forestry. The crop was expected to yield 788 pounds an acre, or about 50 pounds above the five-year average.
Weather caused losses averaging 30 percent, although in places the damage was as high as 60 percent, McCarty said.
"We probably lost almost 200 pounds per acre on 1.16 million acres of cotton," McCarty said. "That's in excess of 450,000 bales of cotton lost due to adverse weather."
Of the cotton salvaged, much of the seed is non-merchantable. Others are bringing $20 to $30 a ton, down from a typical value of $100. The cotton seed normally covers the cost of ginning, but farmers will either have to pay that cost this year or gins will absorb the loss.
McCarty said for every 480 pound bale of cotton lost, about 900 pounds of seed were lost, too. In Mississippi, this seed is used for feed and oil, but also as planting seed for some of the major seed companies.
"Very little planting seed was salvaged out of Mississippi this year. Much of it has deteriorated to the point it is unacceptable for planting, forcing cotton seed companies to gather seed from other cotton-growing regions," McCarty said.
The year started off slow as cold and wet weather at the end of April and early May delayed planting and caused some fields to be replanted. Once the crop was in, weather cooperated to provide ideal growing conditions. The cotton developed extremely fast and was ready for harvest on schedule.
No major outbreaks of disease or pests threatened the crop, and by early September, farmers were harvesting a record crop.
"Cotton prices have been depressed, but when farmers began to harvest and saw such tremendous yields coming out of the fields, there was a good atmosphere everywhere," McCarty said. "Then the rains started, and we've seen that feeling evaporate. When all is said and done, it will still be a pretty good year for production."
Price this year has averaged in the low-40 cents per pound range, which is 8 to 10 cents a pound above 2001's average of 32.6 cents. Growers planted 1,180 acres of cotton in 2002, down from 1,620 acres in 2001. McCarty said cotton acreage is projected to be down slightly in 2003.