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SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2007
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N. Alabama’s cotton outlook ‘pretty bleak,’ state expert reports

MOBILE (AP)— Alabama’s drought-damaged cotton harvest bound for gins in the next few weeks ranks as the lowest production in the Southeast, with some fields not even worth picking, crop experts say.

Rain helped produced an average harvest near the coast, according to growers, but in cotton-rich North Alabama, the crop is described as “very poor,” with yields falling below the break-even level for growers.

Cotton expert Charles Burmester at the Alabama Cooperative Extension System research center in Belle Mina said the bolls are on the plants, but because of the scorching heat they didn’t develop properly and make the outlook “pretty bleak.”

North Alabama got some rain in July, he said, but then it stopped and the Tennessee Valley area had two weeks of 100-degree-plus weather. While cotton is one of the most drought-tolerant crops, this summer’s heat and a persistent drought proved a devastating mix.

Statewide, it was the driest on record from January through August, according to federal weather data. The U.S. Drought Monitor rates Central and North Alabama as being in an exceptional drought, the worst ranking given by the federal agency. The area of exceptional drought, which has expanded into some neighboring states, is the only one in the country with that ranking.

Looking back on his 14 years as cotton specialist at Auburn University, Dr. Dale Monks said Friday that “this is the most difficult year we’ve had.” Because of the drought, he said, the fiber quality also is low and that will reduce prices for the crop.

As for next year, he said some growers may switch to wheat, corn and soybeans because of improved prices for those crops.

Burmester expects a cotton yield of 450 pounds per acre, but others call that optimistic. A yield of about 700 pounds is considered a break-even level for growers, he said.

The state’s top-producing cotton counties are Limestone, Madison, Lawrence, Monroe, Colbert, Escambia, Lauderdale, Cherokee, Baldwin and Geneva.

Colbert County grower Neal Isbell said a 450-pound yield is an “optimistic” prediction.

“We’ve had two to three disasters in a row. Looks like ’07 may be as bad or worse,” Isbell said. Besides spreading drought, growers also struggled with hurricane damage in 2004 and 2005, leading some to seek disaster relief.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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