SIKESTON -- For the past 59 years, the American Legion Cotton Carnival has kicked off the cotton harvest season, and while the occurrence of the event is never questionable, the outcome of the crop always is.
"Feelings are a little mixed," said cotton farmer Mike Geske about this year's crop. "Actually, the early cotton is looking very good, but the late cotton could use some heat units."
Wet weather in early spring forced many farmers to replant their cotton, therefore, delaying the harvest season this year.
"The trend has been cooler than normal weather all year so it doesn't seem likely the trend is gonna break," pointed out Geske of Matthews.
Some farmers might begin harvesting in a week or so, Geske said. Late cotton has some bolls, but not all of it has, he said.
"It's (the crop) better than it was a week ago," noted Dr. Bobby Phipps, cotton specialist for Missouri Delta Center in Portageville. "We still need some good, dry, hot weather. We might get dry, but I don't know if we'll get that hot weather."
In Missouri, for the week ending Sept. 21, nearly 57 percent of bolls were open, up from 36 percent for previous week. In 2002, at the same time period, 65 percent of bolls were open statewide. No cotton has been harvested in Missouri for the week ending Sept. 21, down from 4 percent at this time last year, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Fifty-nine percent of fields nationwide had open bolls, 14 percentage points behind last year and 16 points behind the 5-year average.
Farmers who planted their cotton late will also have a defoliation dilemma, Phipps said. Next week will be the peak week for defoliation, he predicted.
"With a late season's ending, many farmers toughest decision will be whether to sacrifice the top crop or wait on the top crop. The cotton probably needs to be defoliated by the end of the first week of October," Phipps suggested.
Phipps also recommended making two trips when defoliating. The first trip should be made with a defoliant and that should be followed up with a boll opener.
And only a trace of the area's cotton is being harvested, Phipps noted. He said he knows of only one field where cotton has been harvested.
Ten percent of the nation's acreage has been harvested, compared with last year's 13 percent and the five-year average of 15 percent. Bolls open and harvested were over one week behind normal nationwide. Louisiana, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia were one week or more behind normal in bolls opening, while Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina and Tennessee were two weeks or more behind normal. All cotton-producing states were behind their normal harvest pace, with most states one week or more behind.
Nationwide, there was little change in condition of the crop last week, but condition ratings declined sharply in North Carolina and Virginia due to damage from Hurricane Isabel, NASS reports.
"We're not having a great year," Phipps said. "This year's crop is not as good as the last two years, which were two of the best three."