Hot, dry weather takes toll on harvesters

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 6, 2000

FERRIDAY, La. – Picking cotton is far from easy in the best of weather — much less during the hotter-than-normal temperatures of recent days.

Last week, the temperature at St. Joseph — the nearest place for which such figures are reported — averaged 89 degrees, a full nine degrees above normal, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures.

Such weather &uot;just wears (cotton pickers) out,&uot;&160;said Morris Ray Arthur, who farms cotton, corn, soybeans and milo near Ferriday. &uot;Most of my equipment, tractors and pickers, is air conditioned — but when they break down, you’re back out in this heat.&uot;

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In addition, St. Joseph has recorded only 27.24 inches of rain this year, more than 10.5 inches below normal. And workers are not the only ones wilting in the heat and dryness of this summer’s near-drought — cotton and soybeans have also suffered.

&uot;Actually, the dry weather helps the harvest,&uot;&160;said Vidalia farmer and consultant Cecil Parker. &uot;We should be finished harvesting cotton by the end of the month.&uot;

Dry weather means more days suitable for harvesting crops, and the lack of moisture has made cotton mature faster than usual. &uot;We’re harvesting about two weeks faster than normal this year,&uot; Parker said.

But dry weather also saps moisture from the plant, lessening the weight of soybeans and cotton and, therefore, the crop weight for which farmers get paid. &uot;In this kind of weather, they lose moisture faster than they can be harvested,&uot; Parker said.

In fact, the lack of moisture is so severe that Parker has estimated that some farmers have lost 5 percent of their soybean yield in moisture alone.

&uot;Some people have beans so horrible they won’t even cut the,&uot;&160;he said. &uot;And where you might get 15 bales of cotton in a normal year, you might get 12 bales this year.&uot;

Arthur estimates the heat and dryness have cut his cotton and soybean yields in half. &uot;It’s been tough on everybody,&uot; he said.

Farmers will not really know how the near-drought conditions have affected the quality of their cotton until late this month, said Connell Miller, a partner with Bougere Farms in south Concordia Parish.

&uot;We probably won’t know that until we get the grades of cotton in two to three weeks from the (cotton) gin,&uot;&160;he said.

But apart from the weather’s effect on the crops themselves, do not feel too sorry for farmers, Miller said.

&uot;Most farmers are used to being out in the heat,&uot; he said. &uot;Until it’s at least 95 degrees, I don’t even break a sweat.&uot;