Rains halt Mississippi cotton harvest, yields up

Rains that started the third weekend of October put the Mississippi cotton harvest on hold, but they did not substantially damage the crop remaining in the field at the end of the month.

“In places that got heavy rain, it may have strung out some cotton on the plants. However, losses from cotton on the ground should be minimal,” said Darrin Dodds, cotton specialist with Mississippi State University’s Extension Service. “If it dries out in a timely manner, we may see problems with color grades, but I don’t think drizzling rain will cause a large loss in quality.”

The state had mostly favorable weather during the first part of cotton harvest, which started about the second week of September. Rain set in during the last half of October. Most areas got long, steady rain, but Dodds said some places along the Coast had up to 3 inches at once.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported the state had about 85 percent of its cotton harvested by Oct. 21. Last year, producers were 92 percent harvested by this same time, but even with the rain delay, harvest is still ahead of the five-year average of 74 percent complete.

“A lot of growers were concerned after the growing season we had, but most fields seem to be yielding a little better than they thought they would,” Dodds said.

USDA projects the state will have an average per-acre yield of 953 pounds. If the state actually reaches that, it will be the second-highest yield average on record. The highest was recorded in 2004 when state growers harvested 1,024 pounds of cotton per acre.

While cotton yields are expected to be surprisingly good this year, the state will produce significantly less cotton than normal because acreage took a big hit, mostly from increased corn acreage. Cotton acreage dropped 40 percent to 45 percent from 2006 levels to 666,000 acres, the lowest cotton acreage ever planted in Mississippi.

“That’s the largest percentage reduction of anywhere in the nation,” Dodds said. “Next year, it may be worse. Grain prices, especially soybeans and wheat, are really good, and those crops may take even more cotton acres in 2008.”

Steve Martin, Extension agricultural economist at the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, said cotton has a higher dollar value to the state’s economy than other row crops because its production, harvest and processing employ more people than the others.

“The reduced cotton acreage has a several-million-dollar economic impact in the state,” Martin said. “We’ll survive it this year, but long-term, if we don’t pick up cotton acreage, eventually those people employed in the cotton industry will have to do something else and will very likely have to leave the area.”

Cotton futures are about 65 cents a pound for December 2007, and December 2008 futures are 75 cents a pound.

“Historically this looks very attractive, but soybeans and wheat are at all-time highs. There’s more profit in $9 soybeans than 75-cent cotton,” Martin said. “You may sell more dollars’ worth of product, but the profit won’t be there in cotton.”

While there are adequate supplies of cotton now, decreased U.S. and world stocks and the anticipated further decrease in cotton acreage next year are inching cotton prices higher.

“Before we are finished selling the 2008 crop, prices may be competitive with the grain crops,” Martin said.

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