The 2002 cotton crop literally was a "wash" for many producers in the lower Southeast, as a line of tropical storms and wet weather fronts brought too much rain, too late in the season over too many acres in south Alabama, southwest Georgia and north Florida.
And nowhere were the problems more severe than in the southwest region of Alabama, particularly Baldwin, Mobile, Escambia, Monroe and Convington counties, all on or near the Gulf Coast.
"Many of our producers are saying they’ve never seen harvest conditions this bad for this long," says Dale Monks, cotton specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. "Some of the cotton in this area had the potential of making 1,000 to 1,300 pounds per acre. Now, that same cotton may pick 300 to 400 pounds per acre."
The quality of the affected cotton is suffering mightily, he adds. "The color grade and strengths especially are suffering. Some of this cotton will go below grade, and most of the price will be gone," he says.
The southwest corner of Alabama normally is an excellent region for producing cotton, notes Monks. "July and August were characterized by excellent growing conditions for producers in this area. Then, the tropical storms and weather fronts began at about the second week in September and never subsided. Many growers in southwest Alabama received 25 to 30 inches of rain in September and October alone, with some receiving as much as 45 inches," he says.
As of the final week of November, most of the cotton in southwest Alabama still had not been harvested, he continues. "This leaves the prospects for next year very uncertain. Some of these growers — once they take out costs for picking, ginning and grade deductions — could be losing money by picking this cotton."
Cotton also has been hammered in the state’s southeastern Wiregrass Region, says Monks. "Much of the cotton in the Wiregrass Region and in central Alabama was ready to harvest when the rains began. Growers in that area already were hurt by a dry August and were looking at yields of about 600 pounds per acre. Now, they’re looking at 250 to 300-pound per acre yields."
In late November, only about 70 percent of Alabama’s cotton had been harvested, compared to a five-year average of 91 percent. The statewide average yield continues to drop, says Monks, from about 675 pounds per acre in August to about 615 pounds in November.
"The sad thing is that these producers did everything necessary to make a good cotton crop," he says. "Growers in southwest Alabama have good land, and they usually get good moisture from the Gulf. But there was nothing they could do this year."
The one advantage to all of this late-season rainfall is that it is replenishing the topsoil moisture. In Alabama, 53 percent of the state is rated adequate and 46 percent is rated surplus for topsoil moisture.
Continuous rainfall also has slowed cotton harvest in Georgia, where 68 percent of the state’s crop had been picked by the last week of November. This compares to the five-year average of 82 percent.
Georgia’s 2002 cotton crop now is expected to total 1.80 million bales. This is 50,000 bales below earlier forecasts and 420,000 bales below last year’s production. Georgia’s statewide average yield for this year is estimated at 604 pounds per acre over 1,430,000 acres.
Georgia farmers, however, are reporting that the plentiful rains are filling ponds and streams across the state. The state’s soil moisture table was 69 percent adequate and 30 percent surplus in late November, with only 1 percent reporting a shortage. This compares favorably to last year, when 49 percent of the states soil moisture was rated very short and 33 percent rated short.
High humidity and ample rainfall in many Florida Panhandle and in some northern Peninsula areas during October and November hampered both cotton and peanut harvesting in the Southern-most state.
The Florida Agricultural Statistics Service reports that cotton picking has fallen well behind the normal progress, and a few of the remaining unharvested peanut fields have been abandoned. Heavy rains caused some cotton to fall to the ground while some fields were too muddy to support cotton harvesting equipment.
Top soil and soil moisture supplies are rated mostly adequate in all areas of Florida with a few pockets of very short to short supplies. Soil moisture remains surplus in areas receiving the brunt of recent rains.