SUMMER STORMS THWART PLANTING, HARVEST SEASONS
Alabama farmers are busy regrouping following days of consecutive, heavy rainfall that foiled summer harvesting plans.
|Macon County Farmers Federation President Shep Morris, above, said his cotton crop is experiencing the consequences of excessive rain. Farmers across the state, like Morris, aren’t sure what the long-term effects of mid-summer storms will be or when the rains will finally stop.|
Mobile County farmer Jeremy Sessions planted 500 acres of peanuts this year, along with cotton, corn, soybeans and a mix of fruits and vegetables. The wet weather, he said, wrecked acres of crops that were ready for harvest and left recently planted crops susceptible to damage.
“We’ve picked most of the tomatoes, melons and cantaloupe, thankfully, but most of what was left in the fields is ruined, including a fourth of our corn crop,” Sessions said. “You have to pick vegetables every day, rain or shine, but you can only pick so much if it’s too wet to get in the fields.”
Alabama Farmers Federation Horticulture and Greenhouse, Nursery and Sod Divisions Director Mac Higginbotham said rainfall exposes fruit and vegetable, nut and nursery crops’ vulnerabilities. Even covered plants aren’t immune to damage.
“Crops produced under greenhouses aren’t receiving the amount of light levels they need, which delays ripening and reduces fruit and plant sizes,” he said. “In the fields, diseases and pests tend to thrive in vegetable plants; potatoes become difficult to manage or harvest; and fruit yields are greatly reduced by the loss of blooms.”
In addition to depleting organic soil matter, Higginbotham said supersaturated soils eventually could starve plants of oxygen.
“Producers should watch for yellowing of the plants, prepare for delays in harvest and expect reduced yields in some areas of the state,” he added.
The potential for problems with Alabama’s peanut production was a concern voiced by Alabama Peanut Producers Executive Director Randy Griggs, who said a lack of oxygen and black rot are on the minds of the state’s peanut farmers. He said the immediate need to get out in the fields is essential to preserving this year’s crop.
Row crop farmers also have reason to be concerned by excessive rain. However, Federation Cotton, Soybeans, and Wheat and Feed Grains Division Director Buddy Adamson said wet conditions might not prove as harmful to crops as past drought-ridden summers.
"Most farmers would rather have too much rain than too little, but standing water in some areas is creating unexpected delays," Adamson said. "Continuous rain has kept some wheat growers from completing harvest, which means they may not get to plant soybeans as a second crop. If fields don't dry out soon, unharvested wheat could begin to sprout, thus reducing quality and value. It's important for farmers to complete harvests soon, or it's likely they’ll run out of time before planting season ends."
Adamson said cotton planting across the state is complete, but excessive rain could cause soil and nutrient deficiencies.
"Overall, row crops need a few days to dry out, along with sunshine and moderate temperatures," Adamson added. "After another week or two, they will need another shower to keep progressing. Despite current conditions, farmers are upbeat about crop prospects, even if they aren't able to finish planting all the acres they intended."
While long-term effects of recent rainfall are unknown, hay and forage farmers may fare better than other farmers.
"Timely rainfall has extended what was already a very good spring growing season for forages," said Federation Hay and Forage Division Director Nate Jaeger. "However, farmers may actually see a decrease in forage quality and need to be cognizant of how this abundant rainfall may affect the forage they feed livestock this winter. A comprehensive forage test from the Auburn University laboratory is highly recommended."
Sessions said rainfall in South Alabama isn’t something new for this time of year, and he’s relieved the area has avoided tropical storms and hurricanes thus far. Still, the high levels of rainfall received in a short time have put quite a few farmers weeks behind on harvesting wheat, planting soybeans, and treating cotton, peanuts and pecans.
“If it doesn’t dry out soon, it’s definitely going to cause us issues later on,” Sessions said. “All the peanuts at our farm have been planted, but it’s especially important to treat peanuts on the front end to ward off any problems. We can’t really do that until it dries out, and we’re not sure when the rains will finally stop.”
From Jan. 1—July 9, portions of Alabama have received nearly double the average amount of rainfall as this time last year according to the National Weather Service. To view the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service’s Crop Progress and Condition Report for Alabama, visit http://www.nass.usda.gov/Publications/State_Crop_Progress_and_Condition.