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Georgia Cotton Crop Biggest Since World War I

Not since 1918 has Georgia seen this much cotton in the fields.

Experts with the University of Georgia Extension Service figure this year's Georgia harvest will top 2 million 480-pound bales.

"It's a sizable crop," said Steve M. Brown, an extension cotton specialist. "It's the biggest we have had in over 75 years, in terms of total bales."

This year's crop is up slightly from 1.94 million bales last year. In 1990, Georgia farmers picked just 405,000 bales on 350,000 acres.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that Georgia cotton growers planted 1.375 million acres this year. That's down from 1.5 million acres last year.

"Last year the average yield was 625 pounds per acre," Brown said. "This year we're likely to make close to 700 pounds per acre."

What made the difference? Rain.

"Last year we faced extreme drought in some areas of the state," Brown said. "This year we had some drought, but we set a better crop earlier on. And we had a little more scattered rain than we had last year. Water is the biggest determining factor in how much cotton we make."

The Georgia cotton crop is usually harvested between mid- September and mid-November. Even though growers began picking cotton early this year, experts predict they will keep picking until Thanksgiving.

"We have an average of 45 percent of the crop harvested," Brown said. "Some areas are way ahead of that, as high as 85 to 90 percent. And some areas are behind."

Again, rain is a factor. In this case, the harvest has been hampered by heavy rains in late August and early September.

"We also had more rain in October," Brown said. "October is usually our driest month, so the weather created some real difficulties for us this year. But we're in high gear in most areas of the state."

Georgia ranks second nationally in cotton acreage behind Texas. It ranks third, behind Texas and California, in bale production.

The year's cotton crop will go to market at about 72 cents per pound. Economists with the Extension Service say the crop contributes more than $691 million to Georgia growers and the economy of Georgia.

(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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