Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on October 15, 2004. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Near-record cotton harvest progresses
cMISSISSIPPI STATE -- After a season of unprecedented weather challenges, the biggest uncertainty remaining for Mississippi's cotton growers is whether or not they will top last year's record yields.
2003 went down in the record books with yields averaging 932 pounds per acre. 2004 will go down in the record books for the wettest June and coldest first week in August. Then growers faced a Category IV hurricane as it bore down on the state on the eve of the harvest season. While some fields took a hit from Hurricane Ivan, the bulk of the state's crop was spared.
Tom Barber, cotton specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said despite all the unusual weather this year, growers may exceed last year's average.
"If we don't beat it, we're going to scare it to death," Barber said of the record. "On Oct. 12, the USDA increased Mississippi's predicted yields to 925 pounds, which is 125 more than the previous estimate."
Barber said almost 65 percent of the crop was harvested before early October rains forced delays. Although some areas may have gotten 5 to 6 inches of rain, Barber does not anticipate any losses in quality.
"I think the rains just settled the dust; most of it came down slow and easy without much wind," he said. "It would have been better not to have gotten it, but I still don't think there was much damage, if any."
Hurricane Ivan's greatest impact was in eastern counties, generally from Monroe to the Coast. Barber said impacted counties probably lost 30 percent to 50 percent of their yields.
Barber describes 2004 as a "surprising season." The crop overcame June's saturated soils and resulting nutrient deficiencies, then later made up for lost heat units in early August.
"I'm sure a lot of the credit goes to new varieties, new technologies that produced more of a top crop, coupled with the boll weevil eradication program's success and a light worm year," Barber said.
Angus Catchot, Extension cotton entomologist, said plant bugs were cotton's biggest pest this year. Fields in Mississippi's hill section averaged one spraying for plant bugs during the season, but Delta fields averaged more than five sprayings in 2004.
"It's hard to tell at this point how much yield we might have lost, but growers and consultants did a very good job of treating fields to minimize damage," Catchot said. "This was a very light year for worm problems. One theory is that the saturated soils in June were detrimental on boll worm pupae trying to emerge from corn (before going into cotton)."
Catchot said Mississippi growers enjoyed their fourth year of zero economic losses to boll weevils, formerly cotton's No. 1 pest.
Farrell Boyd, eradication program manager, said significant decreases in boll weevil numbers continued in 2004.
"In a recent trapping period, we collected 1,972 boll weevils, which is 83 percent fewer than the same time last year," Boyd said. "For the season, more than 86 percent of Mississippi's fields have remained weevil-free with zero boll weevils trapped."
Boyd said the statewide total of weevils trapped is 12,561 compared to 60,182 by the same period last year, a reduction of 79 percent. The majority of this year's weevils -- 85 percent of them -- were trapped along the bluff between the Delta and hill sections from Natchez to Memphis.
"The land along the bluff has some excellent overwintering sites for boll weevils. We will be giving those fields special attention to help continue reducing weevil numbers significantly in 2005," Boyd said.