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Sunshine key to Georgia cotton producers harvesting their crop By Clint Thompson

End-of-year rainfall and poor harvest conditions have been tough on Georgia’s cotton crop and tested Georgia’s cotton farmers, says University of Georgia Cooperative Extension’s new cotton agronomist.

“The rain and extended periods of cloudy weather hurt much of the crop when it was just starting to open. Much of the earlier maturing portions of the crop suffered from weathering and worse-than-normal boll rot,” said Jared Whitaker, who assumed the post at the UGA Tifton Campus on Dec. 1, 2015.

Inclement weather throughout the harvest season delayed the cotton harvest statewide. The recent rain on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015, sidelined some Georgia producers who were unable to pick their crop, though it has been ready to harvest for quite some time. According to UGA’s Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Network, the UGA Tifton Campus recorded 1.81 inches that day, and UGA’s C.M. Stripling Irrigation Research Park logged 1.80 inches.

Last week’s heavy rains followed downpours on Nov. 18 and 19, which also helped to delay harvesting. Despite the recent rainfall over the past three weeks, Whitaker is optimistic about the progress that producers have made in getting their crop out of the field.

“The fact that we’re still picking some cotton and the fact that very few people are done, compared to last year, there is no doubt we’re later. In general, though, we normally pick cotton in December,” Whitaker said.

Though the quality of Georgia’s cotton crop may be low, Whitaker is still hopeful about the state’s total production. However, cotton prices are a different matter.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture has us pegged at 995 pounds per acre, which would be the second-largest crop we’ve ever made. I tend to agree with it. But you don’t hear the normal optimism associated with a crop of this size due to cotton prices. We needed a big crop just to attempt to remain profitable, and the excitement isn’t there,” Whitaker said.

Cotton prices are currently 63 cents per pound, far below the 80 to 85 cents producers strive for.

“We certainly didn’t make the high-end crop that we sometimes make. We didn’t have a lot of three-plus bale cotton from that weathering. But the dryland cotton was very strong in a lot of places. There’s a lot of 1,000-pound or better cotton, which is really good,” Whitaker added.

While the question of whether prices will improve still weighs on farmers’ minds, so does concern over when the entire crop will be harvested. Whitaker estimates approximately 80 percent of Georgia’s cotton crop is out of the field. Compared to last year when almost every producer was done harvesting by Thanksgiving, Georgia is late this year.

“We could be much further behind, but growers have worked extremely hard to get this far. Last year was just an extremely unique year,” Whitaker said. “If we could get another week or two of sunshine, we would certainly make some more headway. I think with two more weeks, we’ll be close to done.”

For more information about Georgia’s cotton crop, visit ugacotton.com.

(Clint Thompson is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences based in Tifton.)

Cotton in trailer
Cotton in trailer

Cotton is dumped into a trailer at the Gibbs Farm in Tifton on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013.

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Cotton is dumped into a trailer at the Gibbs Farm in Tifton on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013. Download Image
Cotton picker
Cotton picker

The picture shows a cotton picker traveling down a cotton plot at the Gibbs Farm in Tifton on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013.

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Cotton picking
Cotton picking

This picture shows cotton being picked at the Gibbs Farm in Tifton on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013.

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