Dry harvest helps cotton, peanuts

Perhaps the only good thing about the drought of 2007 for Virginia cotton growers was the fact the dry conditions contributed to exceptional harvesting efficiency.

“We lost virtually nothing in the harvesting process,” says Joel Faircloth, Virginia Tech University Extension cotton specialist. “Our farmers picked most everything that was there. There were no hurricanes to blow the lint out of the burrs or reduce quality.”

In part as a result of the dry weather, cotton yields in Virginia are higher than expected, says Faircloth. In September, he told Southeast Farm Press the rains that fell in August might have pushed the yield close to 700 pounds per acre.

“Now I am saying it may fall in the 750- to 800-pound range,” Faircloth said in mid-November. “It is remarkable how tolerant cotton is of drought.”

Although it won't be a bumper crop, Faircloth thinks the yield won't fall too far below the average of recent years. “A few weeks ago, I would have estimated we would average 650 pounds per acre,” he says.

Some of the most impressive yields have come from the Suffolk area, he says. “We have seen some farms that produced well in excess of 1,000 pound per acre yields.”

Virginia weathered the drought better than some other parts of the Cotton Belt, but there will be strong competition from double-cropped wheat and soybeans and perhaps also from corn.

“There will be an opportunity for cotton acreage to go up next season, hopefully by 10,000 to 15,000 acres” says Faircloth. “That might take us from the 57,000 acres we had in 2007 to maybe 70,000 acres in 2008.”

As to production, cotton production in Virginia was projected at 92,000 bales by the USDA in November. Faircloth finds this credible, but says the crop still might make it to 100,000 bales.

In 2006, Virginia growers produced 155,000 bales on 104,000 acres.

The quality of the Virginia cotton crop is high most years relative to the rest of the Cotton Belt, but there are some quality issues in 2007, says Faircloth.

“It is very unusual to see high micronaire here, but we have some this year,” he says. “The late season drought we had meant the crop was made with old bolls set very early in the season. By comparison, Alabama had an early season drought and the bulk of its yield may have consisted of bolls set later in the season.”

There is also some short staple in this crop, but the color is good, he says.

In North Carolina, cotton yields were down because of the drought, says Keith Edmisten, North Carolina State University Extension cotton specialist.

“There were pockets that had rain in August, generally areas near the coast, and that really made a big difference,” he says. “Hyde County had a good crop. The closer you were to the coast the better.”

South of Raleigh, on the other hand, tended to have the worst conditions, he says. Harnett and Lee counties were very hard hit.

“We expect to see high mike in this crop,” he says.

In the future, there is good reason to expect more problems with Palmer amaranth. “There was definitely a problem with resistant pigweed, and we have to expect it will get bigger,” Edmisten says.

Jack Bacheler, North Carolina State University Extension entomologist, says thrips in 2006 were as damaging as he'd ever experienced, but both bollworms and stink bug damage appear to be down this year, based on surveys of early damaged bolls.

“Unfortunately, much of this lighter damage was due to unattractive, droughty cotton in July and August,” Bacheler says. “Most producers would have gladly traded higher worm or bug damage for better rainfall and higher yields.”

Cotton harvest in North Carolina was at least 80-percent complete by mid-November, Edmisten says.

North Carolina peanut harvest was over by then, but not all had been delivered, says Extension Specialist David Jordan.

“So it is a little more difficult to get a good estimate of production, with farmers holding peanuts on the farm longer than in the days of quota,” he says. “I am estimating an average yield of 2,650 pounds per acre, but there is some debate as to whether it will be that good. Still, I think our yields will not be as low as we feared earlier in the season.”

Virginia peanut yields appeared to be a little better than earlier expected, says Faircloth.

“We have seen yields of over 4,000 pounds from isolated fields, mostly around the city of Suffolk,” he told Southeast Farm Press. “I am hoping the state average will be around 2,500 pounds per acre. That would be very good considering what this crop went through.”

Faircloth says he was hearing that 2008 contracts may be 15 percent to 20 percent higher than in 2007.

“That would increase acreage but not to level it was before the end of the quota system,” he says. “We might go from 26,000 acres to about 35,000 acres.”

One factor may limit any increase in peanut plantings in Virginia, he says. “If farmers have already planted wheat in a wheat-soybean double crop, it is too late to plant that land in peanuts,” he says.

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