Monday, October 29, 2012

The Weather, Cotton Harvest and Monitoring Moisture

 Thanks to Mother Nature, the cotton harvest took a brief respite last week.

Rapid rise in module temperatures means  moisture issues.
Only four days after fall temperatures climbed into the mid-90s, the skies turn dark and cloudy, dropping a quarter inch of rain on the defoliated cotton fields last Monday. The wet fiber suddenly idled the cotton harvesters.  Growers had to wait several days for the cotton to dry out before resuming harvest activities late last week.

If growers pick cotton that has high moisture content, there’s a strong chance that mildew will develops in harvested fiber. Wet cotton also impacts the cotton quality during the ginning process.

I found some interesting articles about monitoring moisture during the cotton harvest and moisture management and the ginning process by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service and the USDA.
The late October rain we experience is pretty normal for the San Joaquin Valley. If you look at the National Weather Service’s historical statistics, we usually get about two-tenths to a quarter inch of rain around the 20th of the month. What make it unusual is the weather seemed to turn on a dime.

In fact, on Thursday, October 18 (just a day before our annual Cotton Farm Tour), the daily high temperature climbed to 95 degrees, tying the record high set in 1905. By the following Monday, the rains came and temperatures plummeted with the daily high reaching only 63 degrees, just a degree off the all-time record for lowest maximum temperature that day. The good news: the rain didn’t knock any cotton to the ground.

Warmer temperatures over the past weekend and clear weather forecast for the rest of this week bodes well for growers. This should allow them to make up for lost time and move forward with the harvest. I anticipate this year’s harvest will continue through November with the late-season pima variety fully picked after Thanksgiving.

Rain added moisture to cotton in the fields.
 Meanwhile, the rain is likely to affect alfalfa growers trying to squeeze out one more cutting before calling it quit for the season. The freshly cut alfalfa that drying on the ground absorbed enough moisture to degrade the quality of the hay. That means growers will receive less money for their final cutting. That said, we can close the chapter on this year’s alfalfa season.

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