Harvest brings more bad news for La. cotton industry

Sandy Stewart, Blanchard, Tobie M.  |  10/14/2008 1:00:47 AM

News Release Distributed 10/13/08

Cotton harvest is wrapping up across Louisiana, and the situation is not good, according to industry observers.

Most of the cotton was in a vulnerable stage when the hurricanes Gustav and Ike hit, said Dr. Sandy Stewart, LSU AgCenter cotton specialist. Much of the crop had been defoliated in preparation for harvest and was exposed to the weather.

“It’s a situation where a lot of the fields look good from the road, but you get in the field and look at these bolls, and so many of them are rotten, and that’s where our yield loss is,” Stewart said.

In a good year, a cotton farmer can typically harvest around 900 pounds to the acre, the LSU AgCenter cotton specialist said. This year, farmers are getting closer to 500 pounds per acre. Some areas were so badly damaged, a significant portion of the crop is being shredded in the field.

“My guess is that we may not harvest as many as 80,000 acres in Louisiana,” Stewart said. “Let me tell you, that is a staggering number.”

With only 290,000 acres of cotton planted, that means nearly 30 percent of the acreage will be completely lost.

The heavy rain that started back with Tropical Storm Fay in August and continued with hurricanes Gustav and Ike damaged seeds on the plants – some are deteriorating, others are sprouting. Growers and gins rely on the sale of the cotton seeds as part of their profits.

“Gins typically gin for the seed in Louisiana,” Stewart said. “They always have, and they market that seed. And with seeds that have already sprouted, it’s going to be docked and of a much lower quality, and it’s just a big discount.”

Gins already are closing because of historically low cotton acres, and this will make it tougher for the ones that are operating to stay in business, he added.

The 2008 crop was an expensive crop to grow. High seed costs coupled with high fuel and fertilizer costs meant farmers had to see high yields to break even.

“There is a lot of money tied up in a cotton crop, and when you have this type of situation, many of our farmers can weather this for one year, but the problem becomes much more acute in the spring when they have to get finances for next year’s crop, and that is going to be difficult,” Stewart said.

Stewart expects cotton acreage to fall even lower in 2009. The LSU AgCenter specialist says this drop threatens rural communities that depend on the cotton industry to play a vital role in their economy.

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Contact: Sandy Stewart at (318) 473-6522 or sstewart@agcenter.lsu.edu

Writer: Tobie Blanchard at (225) 578-5649, or tblanchard@agcenter.lsu.edu

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