As summer moves toward fall, Arkansas cotton growers are hoping for a stretch of warmer weather to take them into harvest time.
“We need some warmer weather,” extension cotton agronomist for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Tom Barber said. “If we can see highs in the 80s and keep the average above 65 degrees overnight, we’ll probably get everything to work out like we want them to.”
Cotton thrives in high temperatures during the day but needs cooler nighttime temperatures so it can fully develop.
“It just seems to be a little cooler this month,” he said from the middle of a cotton field on Friday. “I’m wearing long sleeves.”
Using a temperature reading at Pine Bluff, six days this month have reached 90 degrees or higher, through Sept. 18.
Average low temperatures were below the minimum of 65 degrees that cotton needs for peak development.
The National Weather Service says the average low this month through the 18th was 59.9 degrees.
Last year, the average September high at Pine Bluff was 91.4 degrees and the average low was 63.9 degrees.
In 2009, the average daily high was 91.4 degrees and the low was 63.9 degrees.
Barber said cotton producers have been spraying defoliants that will enable mechanical harvesters to grab hold of the bolls. The defoliants are less effective when lows are under 65 degrees, he said.
“In general, we’ll have an average crop,” Barber said. “Some of it will be a little light due to late planting.”
But Barber said the 660,000 acres that Arkansas cotton growers planted should leave farmers “pleasantly surprised” at the yield.
Last week, in its crop production report, the National Agricultural Statistics Service forecast cotton production to be up from 2010.
All cotton production is forecast at 1.4 million bales, up 100,000 bales from the service’s Aug. 1 forecast and up 224,000 bales from last year. Yield is expected to average 1,018 pounds per harvested acre, up 43 pounds from the Aug. 1 forecast but down 27 pounds from last year’s yield.