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Cotton Growers Look for Yield Scapegoat
STARKVILLE -- Late season cotton yield estimates have plummeted as drought and insect damage effects become apparent.
From the original yield estimate on Aug. 1 to the recently released Oct. 1 figures, Mississippi's harvest estimate has dropped 660,000 bales -- for a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars to the state's economy.
"If you assume about $350 per bale or 70 cents per pound of lint and about $40 per bale for the seed, then the loss is in excess of $250 million," said DeWitt Caillavet, agricultural economist at Mississippi State University. "When the multipliereffect is considered, the loss is around $682 million."
Caillavet said the first estimate of 2.49 million bales for 1995 was based on conditions in July, when the crop was looking better than the 1994 crop of 2.132 million bales. Then drought conditions and tobacco budworms took control of the crop.
Delta counties, relatively unhurt by insect damage, were hit hardest by the late season drought after missing the early August rains of Hurricane Erin. Hill counties, most of which got the Erin rains but still struggled through the hot, dry weeks, were devastated by tobacco budworms.
Some people have linked the high tobacco budworm numbers to the fact that this is the first year of the boll weevil eradication program on the eastern side of the state. Initial eradication efforts reduce beneficial insects as well as boll weevils.
Dr. Blake Layton, extension entomologist at MSU, said eradication efforts may have contributed to the tobacco budworm problem, but they were not the cause.
"In June we had substantially higher than normal tobacco budworm numbers both inside and outside the eradication area," Layton said. "This suggests that the problem didn't build up in the eradication area and move out to other counties."
Layton said the June populations were more severe than normally seen in the hill area and egg lay continued over a longer period of time -- three weeks instead of one. Heavy tobacco budworm damage occurred throughout much of the 450,000 acres of Mississippi's hill cotton. Only 100,000 acres of this is in active boll weevil eradication.
"The distribution of the problem more closely follows the hill/Delta boundary than it does the eradication boundary. This suggests that environmental factors played the major role in this year's outbreaks," Layton said.
The entomologist said malathion treatments applied as part of the eradication effort aggravated the problem by destroying beneficial insects that helped control tobacco budworm. However, hill area growers outside the eradication area also had to deal with higher than normal boll weevil populations this season and treat more than usual with other insecticides that also destroy beneficial insects.
Layton said similar tobacco budworm damage occurred in other southeastern states, some in eradication areas and some not involved in active eradication efforts.
"Cotton growers don't need to let this bad year deter them from achieving boll weevil eradication in Mississippi," Layton said. "As long as we have boll weevils to deal with, there will be a greater risk of problems such as this year occurring. New products being developed and new cotton varieties that will help control tobacco budworms give growers hope for future years."
Layton said the cause of all insect problems being more severe in 1995 probably can be attributed to a mild winter.
"We had much higher populations of other cotton pests, and they arrived much earlier in the season," Layton said.