County’s cotton crop may be best in 3 years

Published 12:22 am Thursday, October 2, 2008

It’s shaping up to be a “widespread exceptional” cotton crop for Covington County and other areas around the state, according to William Birdsong, an agronomist for Auburn Extension Cooperative.

Birdsong, who is assigned to cover the southeast Alabama region including Covington County, attributes the late summer rains with abundance of the cotton crop this year.

Alabama’s cotton crop showed signs of improvement during the past week, Birdsong said. Nearly half was reported in good to excellent condition. Producers have just begun to crank up their cotton pickers and strippers for this year’s harvest. Progress was well behind last year because wet fields delayed planting in many areas this spring.

“But, hey — we’re not complaining about the rain,” Birdsong said. “At the beginning of the summer, there were areas that were hard hit by the drought. Northeast Alabama was especially hard hit.

“But basically, I’d say that this year’s crop is a better looking crop than we’ve had in the last three years,” he said.

Birdsong said he wouldn’t go so far as to classify the yields as a “bumper crop” but as a whole, many farmers are being slightly surprised at the results.

“I think that can be attributed to the rain that we got in June, July and August,” he said. “The crop needs the rain earlier in the spring to get up to a full stand. If it can do that, the crop can handle dry conditions until June or so.

“It’s through June and August that the crop really begins to grow,” he said. “That’s the time when the plant needs the most water.”

However, while the prognosis for the cotton crop looks good in Covington County, there are some areas of the state that didn’t receive the needed rain.

“There were some areas up north that didn’t even get one inch of rain in July, which is a month where typically there is four to five inches of rainfall,” he said.

Just under 1 percent of the state was categorized as suffering from severe drought conditions with 17.2 percent of the state classified in a moderate drought, and 40.7 percent was abnormally dry, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor released for Sept. 16, 2008.

“That bit we got around Aug. 10 and 11, really help pull the yield back up, but in some places the damage was done,” Birdsong said. “I said in July we had the potential for a widespread exceptional crop, and I think we do.”

Birdsong said Covington County has a good crop of cotton, and farmers are beginning to see the exact picture of their crop as harvesting begins.

“I was just down there last week visiting Joey Holtz’s farm,” he said. “It’s looking good down there, real good.”

However, one area of concern farmers have is their ability to make a profit when it comes time to see their goods and local farmers may be reluctant to say just how good of a crop they might have, he said.

“I can tell you a lot are reluctant,” he said. “There are so many variables that can factor into profit. You don’t know the hand you’re going to be dealt — you’ve got to factor in the weather, the cost of fuel, fertilizer. Just because you put a crop in the ground doesn’t mean you’re going to make a profit. It’s just hard to say until it’s sold and the check has cleared the bank.”

“It’s a worrisome time to sell,” he said. “Some farmers are lucky and they have a contract that establishes a guaranteed price when they go to sell, but there are others who don’t or who have already met their quota.”