Cotton yields might not be as good as projected during the 2019 growing season, but Bill Robertson, extension cotton agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, thinks that farmers may look back at this growing season as one of the better ones in recent memory. In October, the National Agricultural Statistics Service forecast Arkansas’ average yield at 1,157 pounds per acre, but in November revised that downward to 1,102.
“Going into November we’d been at our second-best average,” Robertson said, adding that the revision may related to gins running a little behind.
The first of November is the target date to harvest cotton, but many growers were still running pickers in mid-November and some were still picking in the second week of December in far northeast Arkansas. The late harvest could have impacted yield numbers, he added. Arkansas farmers were projected to harvest 610,000 acres, a 130,000 acre jump from 2018, according to NASS.
“If I was to summarize the 2019 season in one word, it would be ‘drainage’,” he said. “When we look at fields that did well, and farmers who did well, it was because those fields had better drainage.”
This latest growing season was a tale of two different planting seasons, Robertson said. Farmers started planting in April and May and then heavy rains set in. As of Memorial Day, only about half the crop was planted, he said.
Those that were planted early, “I’ve had some farmers tell me it was their ‘show-the-banker’ cotton. The plants came up good, looked pretty and rooted well. They were on better-drained fields,” he said.
For those fields that weren’t planted early it was too wet to get into the field, he said. Fields with cover crops were the first to be planted. They had better internal drainage.
Drainage was a factor even within a single field. “Ends of fields or parts of fields that didn’t have good draining didn’t grow very well,” Robertson said. “One farmer said he had a 500-pound difference from one end of the field to another. It all had to do with drainage.”
For those who got planted late, heat at the end of summer helped the crop, he said. Some Craighead County farmers told Robertson that they’d grown some of the best cotton they’d ever seen.
“When I visited with cotton merchants, they told me, ‘Bill this crop is so good, it’s better than last year’,” he said. “Our quality is really good.”
Robertson said some of the cotton was so dry and fluffy that big, round modules that typically weigh more than 5,000 pounds didn’t even get to 5,000 pounds. Robertson said he was upbeat about some of the new varieties that will be commercially available next year. A couple of Deltapine varieties were popular this year. One variety, DP 164B2XF, represented 35% of the state’s cotton acres, a second, DP 1518B2XF, had about 25%.
Robertson said he saw some Stoneville, NexGen and Phytogen varieties that came out of the county trials this year that were “really, really good. We have a pretty good selection of new varieties that are going to be really good yielding. I’m excited about the varieties we have to choose from next year.”