Cotton posted an estimated $583 million production value in Mississippi in 2006, but growers paid a high price to bring it to harvest.

“It was a real frustrating year,” says Tom Barber, cotton specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “Some people picked the best crop they've ever picked, but it was probably the most expensive crop they've ever paid for.”

With the exception of localized showers, it didn't rain from April until September across most of the state. By July 25 the drought was categorized as severe across the majority of the state, and extreme along the Gulf Coast.

With few exceptions, the only good harvests in 2006 were from irrigated acres. Barber says just 40-45% of the state's 1.2 million acres of cotton were irrigated. Cotton prices have been about 55¢/lb., but with high pumping costs for irrigation, many producers had to have excellent yields to break even.

Diesel fuel averaged about $2.20/gal., well above fuel costs in 2005. Barber says the effect of low cotton prices and high input costs is going to drive the 2007 cotton acreage in Mississippi to the lowest levels in years.

“My guess is we'll lose 25-30% and go below a million acres,” Barber says.

Along with the drought, producers battled seedling disease, spider mites and increased budworm, bollworm and aphid numbers.