Every production year is different, but this one has been more different than usual. “It’s a different year from what we expected and from what we’ve had in the past three years,” says Dale Monks, Auburn University Extension cotton specialist.
Drought conditions began affecting Alabama cattle producers this past fall, says Monks, and the dry weather persisted into the spring. “We had what is typically considered March weather during the first two weeks of May. North of here, we had temperatures in the mid to upper 40s for two or three weeks. We had some seedling disease in cotton, and the roots never got a chance to develop early in the season,” he says.
Cotton plants were unable to take up the little moisture that was present in the soil, and this was soon followed by nutrient deficiencies and dropped leaves, says Monks.
“We planted about 570,000 acres of cotton in Alabama, and USDA has us harvesting about 530,000 acres with 40,000 acres being abandoned. We’ve already seen a number of acres, especially in southeast Alabama’s Wiregrass region, being destroyed. The Wiregrass probably is the hardest hit region in the state. Cotton planted in that area in late April or early May didn’t get a rain until the first week of July, and some of that cotton has been destroyed,” he says.
Compared to last year’s average yield of 749 pounds per acre, Alabama cotton producers are expected to harvest about 430 pounds per acre this year, says Monks, and this forecast doesn’t include the cotton that was destroyed.
“Whenever we have an average yield of less than a bale per acre, that means we’ll have a few fields that’ll go 600 to 700 pounds, but a lot of fields will go less than that — we have a lot of 300-pound cotton,” he says.
Low yields, says Monks, are usually accompanied by low quality. “In a year like this one, with an early boll set, we’ll more than likely see high micronaire and short staple,” he says.
Steady rainfall was finally seen in parts of east-central Alabama by mid-August. “With these showers, the general impression is that the drought is over. Unfortunately, we needed the rain earlier in the season. Cotton starts to perk up whenever we get rain, and it looks better. But there aren’t a lot of blooms on it because it bloomed during the latter part of July. Some of this cotton has cut out two times this season,” he says.
Cotton began opening in north Alabama during the last week of July, which is about a month early for those growers, says Monks.
“If conditions continue to stay dry, this will be a quick crop.
With adequate rainfall, says Monks, some mid-season varieties planted in the state still could have some potential.