The economic strength of Georgia agriculture has suffered profoundly over the past several years due to adverse weather and declining commodity prices. Farm programs and disaster payments have been crucial in sustaining row crop producers in the state.

Prolonged drought, which began in June 1998, affected much of the state's cotton production during the spring and summer of 2002, but scattered areas received helpful rains through the middle part of the season.

At the mid-way point the crop was as variable as any in memory because of the varied pattern of thunder showers. As harvest neared there were a few areas with bright prospects but many with expectations of another short crop.

Tropical storms and major fronts during September and October resulted in significant harvest delays, further reducing yields across the state. Both lint yield and seed quality suffered considerably.

Defoliation, particularly re-growth inhibition, was a severe challenge throughout the harvest season. Many fields were treated more than once with harvest aids, and there were few fields in which ideal harvest aid performance was achieved.

Initial yield estimates optimistically predicted the crop average to be in excess of 700 pounds per acre, but the pervasive effects of drought and terrible harvest conditions reduced yields to around 600 pounds per acre.

The Boll Weevil Eradication Program certified the 2002 Georgia cotton crop at 1,439,887 acres, similar to the past several seasons.

Transgenic varieties again dominated the state. USDA estimated that about 90 percent of the Georgia crop was planted in transgenic varieties, mostly Bollgard/Roundup Ready (“stacked”) and Roundup Ready varieties. Growers continued to rely heavily on Roundup Ready technology, and as predicted, shifts in weeds spectrum have occurred.

In extreme south Georgia, tropical spiderwort has proliferated and frustrated growers and scientists in regard to effective, economical control options. Tobacco budworm and corn earworm pressure was intense for the first time in several years in some areas, with conventional cotton requiring as many as six to nine sprays.

The occurrence of increased worm pressure and growing evidence of pyrethroid resistance in tobacco budworm caused growers in these areas to rethink the importance and value of Bt cotton. It is likely that more will be planted in 2003.

Adverse weather significantly influenced fiber quality. Over a third of the crop was penalized in color grade, primarily because of weathering associated with September and October rains. About a third of the crop was short staple and over 40 percent was penalized for high micronaire, both quality parameters directly linked to the effects of drought and high temperatures.

Where do we go from here? The 2002 farm bill secured the place of cotton in the state's row crop acreage, but a big change in weather patterns and an increase in cotton price could provide some much needed healing. Economic pressures continue to compel careful planning and management, such things as improving timing of inputs, matching technology with pest pressure, selection of adapted varieties, and capturing maximum fiber yield and quality through expedient harvest.

We are hoping for better times.