Cotton Harvest Ahead in Alabama Despite Widespread Drought

Widespread drought continues in Alabama, as nearly 84% of the state is in severe drought. In fact, 55% of the state’s soil and subsoil moisture is reported to be “very short.”

Even with these conditions, producers are still hard at work bringing in this year’s crop.

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Alabama Extension Cotton Agronomist Steve Brown said though the weather is proving difficult for other harvests and for livestock producers, this year’s cotton crop has fluffed nicely.

“Early yield reports have been better than what I expected,” Brown said. “I’ve heard some very good yields – more than 1,500+ pounds per acre – from a few well-irrigated fields. I’ve also seen dryland acres that have picked 500 to 1,000 pounds per acre.”

Still, he said there are those producers with a “worst case scenario,” bringing in slightly under 300 pounds per acre to slightly over 500 pounds per acre.

The latest crop progress report indicates 92% of cotton bolls in Alabama were open this week, compared to 87% at the same time last year. While the boll opening numbers are not far apart, 25% of USDA’s estimated 535,000 acres planted in the state have been harvested, compared to 17% in 2018.

“One important factor is that the prevailing dry conditions over the past couple of months have resulted in minimal boll rot and excellent conditions for crop opening,” Brown said. “The crop is opening at a very rapid pace because of the lack of rainfall. This should be a speedy harvest.”

Brown said it is difficult to assess the impact of drought on cotton yield at this point. USDA’s August and September estimates had Alabama production at 942 pounds per acre. He said it did not change from month to month.

“Because of the sustained heat and drought over many areas of the state, my estimation of yield is 800 to 850 pounds per acre,” he said. “In many areas, the crop has been severely stressed for weeks. If my numbers are correct, that would place us over $40 million below USDA’s projection.”

William Birdsong, Alabama Extension regional crops agent who works in the Wiregrass region, said cotton harvest is running wide open. However, he noted that farmers did plant a lot of cotton early and the heat units have been high, so maturity is on schedule and ahead due to these factors.

Tyler Sandlin, Alabama Extension agronomic crops specialist in north Alabama, said the yields have been just as good as the crop looks.

“Average yields from what growers are reporting have been between 1,100 and 1,500 pounds per acre,” he said. “Around 40% of the cotton acres have been harvested so far.”