Arkansas cotton farmers are on target to produce the highest yielding crop ever. The USDA has raised its estimate of the statewide average yield to 1,024 pounds of lint an acre.
"That's 2.13 bales an acre. For our state average, that's unheard of," says Bill Robertson, cotton specialist for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.
Yields in that range, however, are common in western states such as Arizona and California, but not in the South, he says.
"We're ahead of neighboring states in expected yields," Robertson notes. Yields in surrounding states are forecast to be in the 900-pound range.
He says the projection caps two excellent growing seasons. Last year's statewide average was 914 pounds, the previous all-time high.
It's estimated that farmers this year will harvest a total of 1.97 million bales - a bale is 480 pounds - from 920,000 acres. But it would only be the second highest total production in history. The top production figure was 1.98 million bales in 1948. Farmers that year had a much larger acreage - 2.3 million acres - to harvest.
Since then, technology and production practices have improved, allowing farmers to produce more per acre and reduce costs, Robertson says.
One thing that hasn't improved much over the years is the price farmers receive.
"It's interesting to note that the season average price in 1948 was 30 cents a pound. On Nov. 17, the Memphis spot price for cotton was just under 43 cents a pound," Robertson says. "The price of cotton is volatile. Our season average price for last year was 65 cents."
Robertson says farmers can remain in business only because of their increased productivity.
"Last year, we had a good crop and a good price," Robertson notes. "Fuel and fertilizer were much less expensive than this year. Technology fees associated with varieties and other fees, such as boll weevil eradication for some farmers, were also higher this year."
"Even though we're making more cotton this year, we'll end up not making as much money on it as last year because of the price and increased production costs," the extension specialist says.
Robertson also says the quality of the crop remaining in the field has suffered greatly from recent rains. That could result in a reduction in the price they receive of about five to seven cents a pound by the time farmers are able to pick it. The reduction is based on what farmers could have received before the rains.