As Georgia cotton farmers prepare for this year’s growing season, some are still trying to harvest what’s left of the 2018 crop, according to Jared Whitaker, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension cotton agronomist.
Due to persistent rains in November and December, many cotton producers were unable to get in the field to pick their crops. As a result, there is still between 5-10% left to be harvested, said Whitaker. In early January, between 10-15% of the crop was still in the field, but fields started to dry out and growers were able to resume harvesting.
“There’s more left than we usually have, that’s for sure. This is as much cotton we’ve had left in the field from the previous year as I can remember,” Whitaker said. “As many challenges as we’ve had over the past several years, at least we had good harvest weather. But harvesting this year’s crop has been extremely difficult since Hurricane Michael in October.”
Ten percent of the 2018 crop equates to approximately 100,000 acres, some of which Whitaker believes will not be harvested because of quality concerns.
“It’s to the point where the cotton is getting so brittle, spindle pickers are having a hard time because, when they go through the field, the cotton bolls bounce right off before they are actually harvested. The spindles are just knocking cotton bolls off the plants and they’re not going into the picker,” Whitaker said. “On top of that, cotton fiber quality is going downhill fast, which devalues a crop that has already been impacted by having such a large portion being blown on the ground from Michael.”
It’s been a difficult year for Georgia’s cotton producers. In May, excessive rainfall delayed planting for many growers, which is one reason so much cotton remains to be harvested. By the time the crop was ready to be picked in mid-to-late fall, growers couldn’t risk bringing harvesters into the field because of saturated conditions.
“We’ve had a tremendous number of days in this season where we couldn’t pick during harvest season, and it’s definitely taken a toll on our producers this year, no doubt,” Whitaker said. “There’s some cotton that the farmers can’t get now and may never get. There’s some that’s not worth getting to begin with.”
Georgia’s cotton industry lost at least $600 million as a result of Hurricane Michael, according to estimates from UGA Extension agents and agricultural economists. This includes losses to cotton lint, cottonseed and reductions in fiber quality. Eighty-eight percent of cotton bolls were open and vulnerable to the hurricane’s destructive winds.
Prior to the storm’s arrival on October 10, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that only 12% of Georgia’s crop had been harvested. Some harvested cotton modules were damaged by wind and rain from the hurricane.