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Cotton Growers Look For A Day In The Sun
By Douglas Wilcox
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- After 1995's cotton disaster, most growers confess compared to last year's harvest the only one way to go is up.
Unfortunately, recent showers and cooler weather have made harvesting difficult, and many growers are beginning to wonder if Mother Nature is giving them the cold shoulder.
With about 40 percent of the crop out of the fields, growers need sunny days to maintain quality and finish harvesting.
"Growers have had a slow start this season," said John Coccaro, Sharkey County area extension cotton agent. "Harvesting is usually non-stop from beginning to end. Cooler temperatures, scattered showers and low humidity have hampered defoliation and put growers behind schedule."
The stop-and-go harvesting cotton growers are experiencing is evident in Mississippi's cotton gins. Many gin operators, accustomed to a continual game of catch-up and busy late-night shifts during October, are finding themselves already caught up midway through the harvesting season.
Yields are expected to meet or exceed U.S. Department of Agriculture projections of 765 pounds per acre. Quality grades of cotton vary in different areas of Mississippi, often depending on weather factors or defoliating times.
Growers devastated by last season's prolonged drought and tobacco budworm attacks are seeing 1 1/2 to 2 bales per acre in some areas this year -- an increase from the 1 bale or less per acre last year.
Coccaro said despite better yields this year, the Delta will still be slightly below the yield average for the last five years. The state's 5-year average is about 726 pounds per acre, with the Delta traditionally higher than the state average.
Dr. O.A Cleveland, agricultural economist at Mississippi State University, said the October price of 70 cents per pound is disappointing to cotton growers. He expects the average price to fall to 65 cents per pound this year.
"The high level of imported cotton is having an impact of 10 to 15 cents per pound drop on prices. Rains and crop quality this season are also causing prices to fall," Cleveland said.
Last year cotton growers received better prices averaging 84 cents per pound due in part to low yields caused by insects and dry weather.