Tough season for cotton farmers

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JACKSON COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Cotton farmers planted their crops in April and now it's time for the harvest.

There's no denying the tough season it's been.

"We're estimating roughly a 30 percent yield loss or potentially higher in cotton this year in Jackson County," Jackson County Horticulture Agent Matt Lollar said.

Pests like whiteflies and nematodes caused problems, but the most unexpected damage came from Hurricane Irma.

"It was a welcome sight when I got up the next morning," cotton farmer Sonny Davis said. "I've got cotton in front of my house and it wasn't blown out... what was open. Lodged, tangled up, yes. But it didn't look bad. I was pleased."

Fast forward three days later and the leaves turned red.

"When the leaves turn red, it quits growing," Davis said. "It quits producing. We still had about four weeks of production time to make a crop."

When the plants stopped growing, so did the immature bolls, which in turn caused the cotton to string out.

"What happened with the hurricane is it shocked the plant," Davis said. "There's a lot of theories about particularly what happened, but it shocked it and it quit."

Some of the older cotton didn't suffer as much.

"It had already fruited well on its way to maturity, so we just lost the very top crop, but as the cotton planting got later on in the year into May, that's where we're seeing the most damage," Davis said.

Peanut harvesting has also been a delayed process because of Irma.

Davis said many farmers won't get around to their cotton until the peanut harvest is complete.