History will have some interesting stories to tell about the 2010 cotton crop across the country. You name it, and it probably happened. However, the harvest season – especially in the Mid-South – was downright unusual.
In parts of the Mississippi Delta, cotton was being picked during the last week of August. Long-time observers say they can’t ever recall such a scenario. It bordered on the bizarre.
Several factors came together to create this environment, but it was still hard to comprehend what was actually happening. Many Mississippi producers, such as Patrick Johnson of Tunica, knew that new early maturing varieties could mean quicker defoliation and harvesting.
That combination, however, was speeded up considerably by hot and dry summer months that led to rapid accumulation of heat units.
“To me, it became apparent in June and July that this crop was progressing quickly,” Johnson says. “And it was because of the hot and dry conditions. That combination put a lot of pressure on us to keep the irrigation on as much as we needed.”
Big Family Operation
Johnson is part of a large family operation that includes his father Pat. Other extended family members involved in the business are an uncle (Mickey) and his son Michael and son-in-law Buddy Allen.
The Johnson farm consists of rice, cotton and soybean acreage. Though cotton acres have decreased on their farm in recent years, the Johnsons still planted close to 3,000 acres this year.
This is Johnson’s 14th crop season, and in the past he always worried that an early crop would translate into cotton with lower yields and quality. That hasn’t been the case so far this year.
Team Approach Helps Johnson Farm Resolve Any Problem
Even with variability in the soil profile of all his fields, Johnson says the early grades on this year’s cotton are encouraging and better than expected. He is hoping for more than two-bale yield averages, and that includes dryland acreage.
The Johnson farm acreage is about two-thirds irrigated and one-third non-irrigated.
“We feel pretty good about what we’re looking at right now,” Johnson says. “Because of the decreased acreage, we have all of our cotton on good land. I think our dryland can even do pretty well.”
Any producer in the northern Delta has a vivid memory of what happened during the 2009 season when torrential rains in October devastated the cotton crop. For that reason, an early harvest actually is welcomed by most farmers.
“The situation with last year’s crop was awful, and I hope I never go through that again,” says Johnson. “I think it’s great to have an early crop. You can get the cotton out of the field earlier, and it gives you more time to make preparations for next year.”
It Takes Patience
The young Mississippi producer knows that he can’t take anything for granted during a crop season – at least not until every module has been delivered to the gin.
The Johnson farm has planted a lot of Deltapine’s DP 0912 B2RF this year, and it has performed well so far, according to early reports.
The variety seemed to handle the excessive heat this summer, and the early harvest has gone well, according to Johnson. In the past, the farm has planted some DP 555 BG/RR, but Johnson thinks that variety probably wasn’t ideally suited for the northern Delta as well as DP 0912 B2RF.
“Even though we haven’t had very many years of experience with 0912, I still like what I’ve seen so far,” he says.
Because of this meticulous approach to crop management, Johnson knows the importance of having a good crop rotation with cotton. That usually means planting corn behind cotton in an efficient schedule.
“Rotating definitely gives us some better yields behind corn,” he says. “However, we still have concerns about getting too heavy into corn. Even in a year like we’ve had in 2010, we have heard about problems with aflatoxin. That makes us more reluctant, but we still understand that corn is a good crop to have in rotation.”
For that reason, you won’t find any of Johnson’s corn fields planted too closely to cotton acreage. The proximity of those fields creates the perfect environment for plant bugs.
A Bright Future
As for the future of cotton production in the northern Delta, Johnson is like many of his producer neighbors in the region. He knows that market forces such as higher prices and better yielding varieties will help cotton recapture some of its lost acreage.
“I am excited about these high prices because this trend will go a long way toward bringing more cotton acres back to the area,” he says. “There is a real trickle-down economic effect, and that’s very significant because cotton is important to us.”
Contact Tommy Horton at (901) 767-4020 or firstname.lastname@example.org.