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Heat Wave Challenges State's Cotton Crop
STARKVILLE -- High temperatures and scattered showers are challenging Mississippi's cotton roots to plunge deeper for the water they need to develop and retain bolls.
"Any major stress on a cotton plant in the first couple weeks of boll set (development) can cause the loss of bolls," said Charlie Estess, Coahoma County extension agent.
"We've seen some boll loss in the recent weeks of drought and heat," Estess said. "Some of the scattered showers have lessened losses."
Estess said plants looked more stressed (wilted) during the week of July 19 than they did a week later. One possible reason for the improvement is that root systems have found water deeper in the ground. He said spotty showers also have helped plant appearances in some fields.
About 40 percent of Coahoma County's 110,000 acres of cotton is irrigated.
"All of our irrigation systems are running. People with dryland cotton are praying for rain," Estess said. "At this point, we're feeling good about the crop's potential. Insect pressure has been relatively light."
In the Hattiesburg area, growing cotton is a new experience for many farmers. Forrest County agent Lee Taylor said acreage has increased from 600 acres in 1994 to between 2,200 and 2,500 acres this year.
Factors contributing to the four-fold increase are the boll weevil eradication program and the desire to find a more profitable crop than soybeans or corn.
"Soybean growers do not have a place to market their crop locally and prices have not be very good," Taylor said. "Corn growers also are having a hard time making the crop profitable."
Taylor said the cotton has not had any significant boll loss from the summer conditions. Much of the crop is improving after the initial hot, dry weather stress.
"Growers have battled a lot of insects -- mainly worms including the yellow striped armyworm, beet armyworm, loopers and boll worms," Taylor said. "Boll weevil numbers are down due to last fall's eradication efforts."
Taylor said the yield potential is good to excellent.
Dr. O.A. Cleveland, extension agricultural economist at Mississippi State University, said December futures reached life- of-contract highs of 84 cents per pound about six weeks ago.
Downward pressure has brought prices about 10 cents lower.
"One factor is that the United States has more cotton supplies available than previously expected," Cleveland said. "At the same time, U.S. mill consumption is about 200,000 bales lower than expected."
The agricultural economist said the extreme slow down in mill consumption hit without warning.
"The cotton market probably will remain under pressure at least until the Aug. 10 crop report is announced," Cleveland said. "The national crop should be between 21 million and 22 million bales. December futures probably will stay in the mid-70 cents per pound range."