Cotton crop has done well but dangers loom

by George Jared (gjared@talkbusiness.net) 144 views 

At least 67% of the state’s cotton crop has been harvested, well above the 42% average during the last five years through mid-October. But, a significant problem is looming. Perpetual rains have left fields full of moisture and color for the crop still in fields is likely to diminish, cotton agronomist Bill Robertson told Talk Business & Politics.

Farmers are at a standstill right now due to muddy fields, he said. Each day that passes the quality of the cotton will spiral downward and despite this, the United States Department of Agriculture is predicting the state will have a yield of 1,150 per acre — the second highest on record.

“At least our cotton was early, and we got started picking early and that’s the good news,” Robertson said. “But we’re to the point in the year where our window of opportunity to harvest is going to be very narrow. We’re not going to have the luxury of letting our fields dry out. Anything not already harvested is probably going to have big ruts in it by the end of the year.”

USDA’s National Acreage Statistics Service (NASS) predicts Arkansas cotton farmers will harvest 485,000 acres this season. It’s about 40,000 acres or 8% more than in 2017, and almost 100,000 more acres than in 2016.

Weather in the spring planting window allowed for the early harvest, Robertson said. Planting started at the end April and usually there is a cooling period during the first week or two in May which stymies cotton growth, he said. This year, it was warmer during that critical grow period and it caused cotton crops to grow at a faster rate. It can take up to 65 days for cotton to flower in a typical year, but it only took an average of up to 55 days this year.

Prices have fluctuated greatly this year. Prices range in the upper 70-cent per pound range as of Thursday, Robertson said. Prices had spiked into the 90-cent per pound range due, likely fueled by a shortage of man made fibers. It typically costs a farmer about 60-cents per pound to cover their input costs. Numerous factors determine how much a cotton farmer gets per pound including the contract they signed in the spring, whether it’s fixed or mobile, the quality of their cotton, subsidies, and others.

Arkansas is ranked fourth nationally in cotton production in 2017, according to the USDA. The state harvested an estimated 1.06 million bales in 2017, up 22% (220,000 bales) compared with 2016. Yields were 1,162 pounds per harvested acre, up 66 pounds per acre from earlier projections, and up 87 pounds from the previous year.

Sunshine and dry conditions are the best ways to ensure more quality cotton is harvested from Arkansas fields, Robertson said.

“Our window is closing … days are getting shorter,” he said.

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