Georgia's cotton crop was “amazing” in 2006. That doesn't mean there were record-high yields, but it wasn't bad considering the circumstance.
“We're sitting back somewhat amazed at how much cotton we made,” says Steve M. Brown, University of Georgia Extension cotton specialist. “Our cotton crop turned out much better than we anticipated.”
Back in September of this past year, Brown says he thought Georgia cotton producers might make about 1.5 million bales. “I thought we might average 500 to 550 pounds per acre. The latest projections from USDA suggest that we're going to make 765 pounds per acre and 2.12 million bales — that's unbelievable,” he says.
There are multiple reasons for Georgia's good 2006 crop, says Brown. Central Georgia and parts of south and southwest Georgia experienced severe drought conditions during the production season.
“The drought and the heat were so bad, and the cotton looked so bad at mid-season and even through August, that I didn't see any way we could make a good crop, and I expected at the time that a lot of cotton would have to be destroyed. We finally did receive some rain in late August and early September,” he says.
Growers saw only a brief period of boll rot in the state, he adds, and throughout much of the season, there was no boll rot. “Whatever we put on the plants, we made. We made some cotton late, and I don't have any doubt we make cotton on into mid- and late-September. It's hard to believe, but it came from somewhere,” says Brown.
Many growers were looking at cotton they thought might pick 300 pounds per acre, he says, and they let it go. But it bounced back, and they made most of the crop late in the season. “We're thankful to have been wrong about that,” he says.
Georgia growers saw a good, but not perfect, harvest season, notes Brown. “We're still picking and ginning,” he said in mid-December.
Another possible reason for the good season, he continues, is the full-season characteristics of the DPL 555 cotton variety. The variety was planted on about 77 percent of Georgia's acreage in 2005, and it probably occupied at least that much land in 2006.
“In addition, we didn't have much late-season insect pressure. We had pockets of early and mid-season pressure, but we just didn't see it late in the season. We had a normal frost time. But again, the cotton came from somewhere,” says Brown.
Giving reasons for the yield results this past season is pure “guesswork,” he says.
“But I believe it was a combination of a lack of boll rot, maybe some late-season rainfall, and possibly the full-season nature of DPL 555. In some places, we didn't have anything to pick in early and even mid-September, but we let it go, and it rebounded.”
Recalling the weather throughout the 2006 growing season, Brown says June and July were very hot and dry. “We're still very dry in Georgia — our swamp and creek levels are down significantly. If you look at some of our ponds, you can see the bottoms and some stumps that you never before could see. People who have been around for a long time say they've never see levels this low.
“We've had some rain, and we've come back up some, but we're still very low in terms of replenishing surface water, ponds and streams.
“Hot dry conditions continued through mid-August. We finally did receive good rainfall in August and September, but we really thought it was too little too late. Apparently, it wasn't.”
The quality of Georgia's 2006 cotton crop also is better than expected, says Brown. “Being hot and dry, we anticipated that we'd see short staple and high micronaire. We've had previous years when half of the crop was high micronaire. By the first part of December, we were showing about 22 percent short staple and 27 percent high micronaire. That is nothing to brag about, but considering our weather conditions, it's pretty good.
“We should be pleased with our quality. We easily could have seen 40-percent high micronaire and 35-percent short staple, but we're coming in much better than that. We're not where we want to be in terms of quality, but we have to be pleased to have a better year than we expected.”
The entire production end of the Georgia cotton industry is more aware of the importance of good quality, he says.
Looking ahead to the 2007 cotton production season, Brown says he still expects DPL 555 to be planted on the majority of Georgia's acreage. “I have heard that technology prices are going to be the same this year as in 2006. Seed prices will be up by between 8 to 9 percent.”
The current popularity of corn could make a dent in Georgia's cotton acreage this year, he says. “I think it's possible we'll probably see corn slightly diminish both peanut and cotton acreage. One of the limiting factors will be the availability of seed. But corn prices look good, and we can make corn.
“With previous prices, it was tough to make it just because nitrogen and irrigation expenses were so much for our growers. I can see cotton giving some ground to corn, and I can see the same thing happening with peanuts. I don't think we'll see any significant movement on the farm bill by planting season.”