Rain a Mixed Blessing for Arkansas Cotton Crop


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – Recent rain has generally helped the Arkansas cotton crop, but the accompanying cloudy conditions may impact yield.

Tom Barber, extension cotton agronomist and associate professor for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said he's checked on-farm demonstration plots and the rain has fluffed up plants.

"The extended period of cloudy conditions and rain has brought new life to many of these fields. However, this 'new life,' has not come without cost: We have shed many cotton flower buds and flowers as a result of the cloudy conditions and rainfall," Barber said.

The flowers are important, as they form the cotton bolls.

Barber said he's been fielding calls from concerned producers.

"But we all know that it happens every year, and this year we were particularly set up to shed because we have successfully retained 95 percent of all fruit to this point," he said.

Overall, the crop is in pretty good shape, Barber said.

Cotton growers are also facing problems with tarnished plant bugs and spider mites, with the plant bug numbers increasing sharply over the past couple of weeks.

In some places, the pests are two to three times above the threshold density that indicates farmers should apply pesticides.

"We've been spraying a lot for those two pests and in some areas, we have pretty high egg numbers for bollworms, but those are a lot more scattered," Barber said.

As with other crops in Arkansas, the cotton crop was planted two or three weeks ahead of the normal planting time, thanks to the warm spring. That enabled the plants to be more developed than usual when pests begin to flourish.

"The insect pests hadn't been too bad up until now," Barber said

All in all, this year's crop appears better than average, Barber said.

Before harvest, farmers have to defoliate the crop so the farm machinery picks cotton without intermingling leaves.

"We'll be defoliating in August," Barber said. "This will be the best cotton we've ever defoliated in August."

But growers will be harvesting fewer acres than usual. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, Arkansas cotton growers planted 580,000 acres in 2010, down from 680,000 acres a year ago. For the first time in decades, more corn has been planted in Arkansas, 660,000 acres, than cotton.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.