Virginia cotton production is up this year

Isle of Wight area farmers are expecting a much better cotton crop than last year as they work fast to harvest the fiber from the field before rain can interrupt their work.

“You just want to see white fluffy bolls out there,” said Rex Alphin of Sunset View Farm in Isle of Wight. “It’s the culmination of what we’ve been looking for all year. This is what we live for and work for — getting that crop in.”

Virginia cotton production is projected to grow 90 percent to 190,000 bales this year after ill-timed long rains stemming from the remnants of Hurricane Matthew last year, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Statewide, producers are expected to harvest 83,000 acres, which is 11,000 more acres than in 2016.

Virginia is projecting 432 more pounds per acre than last year with a yield forecast averaging 1,099 pounds per acre, according to VDACS. Last year, Virginia had a yield of 667 pounds per acre and a yield of 827 pounds per acre in 2015.

But 2017 won’t be a record year, as 2014 had average yields of 1,239 pounds per acre in Virginia, according to state data. The number of acres to be harvested this year is also on par with acreage in 2012, 2014 and 2015.

The quality of the local cotton is good, but the prices could be better, said Johnny Parker, cotton agronomist with Commonwealth Gin in Windsor. Cotton was 68 cents per pound Monday, and the larger U.S. supply means lower prices.

Cecil Byrum of Byrum Family Farms in Windsor said cotton needs both rainfall and sunshine for growth, but last year, the rain came right as the cotton was opening.

“Rain is not good for cotton when cotton is ready to harvest,” Byrum said.

Farmers also dealt with eight days of rain in early October this year but this year’s harvest will still be a “gin buster” because of the volume of cotton coming out of the fields, Byrum said.

The weather was great for growing conditions this year, said Gail Moody Milteer, the VDACS southeast regional marketing representative. She said cotton demand is on par with recent years.

“The boll count is high and as you ride by the fields, everyone is noticing how big and fluffy the bolls look,” Milteer said.

Cotton Plains Farm, run by the Barlow family in Suffolk on the Isle of Wight County line, is experiencing higher yields than last year but Shelley Barlow said 2013 and 2014 were even better.

“We had some really good picking conditions this year,” Barlow said.

Bozick can be reached by phone at 757-247-4741. Daily Press archives contributed to this story. Sign up for a free weekday business news email at or follow @TidewaterBiz.

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