Hope For Prosperous Harvest Dwindles
Debra Davis and Melissa Martin
Every spring, farmers plant a crop with the hope of a good harvest. For many Alabama farmers, their hopes dwindled as drought and high temperatures blanketed much of the state this summer.
|Thomas Adams said the drought devastated southeast Alabama. Corn prices are good, but drought dropped state yields. Peanut yields are good in areas that received adequate rainfall.
Thomas Adams, president of the Henry County Farmers Federation, said he and other farmers in southeast Alabama needed a good crop year to overcome last year's poor crop, but for many, this year was worst than last.
"Now, I'd just be happy if I can come out with an average year," said Adams, who planted 1,000 acres of cotton and 700 acres of peanuts in Henry and Houston counties. "This entire year has been very difficult. We replanted half our cotton crop and still had spotty stands in some areas. We had a decent stand of peanuts, but they're probably 20 percent thinner than we'd like."
A dry spring in the Wiregrass delayed planting by nearly a month, Adams said. That was followed by weeks of record-high temperatures that scorched the crops that did come up.
The hot, dry weather forced cattle farmers in portions of the state to feed hay that normally would be saved for winter.
"We were feeding hay as fast as we could cut it or buy it earlier this year," said Adams, who has 120 cows.
However, some areas of Alabama, particularly in northeastern counties, had an abundance of hay and lush pastures for much of the summer. Those areas received heavy spring rains.
Federation commodity division directors said the state's overall harvest outlook is a mixed bag, but fortunately farmers are receiving good prices for their crops and cattle.
"Strong cotton and corn prices caused peanut acreage to be reduced due to prices offered that were not in line with alternative crops," said Alabama Peanut Producers Executive Director Randy Griggs. "A dry spring caused great variation in planting time, as well as the resulting lack of uniform stands in many places. The lack of general rainfall during the growing period made the possibility of normal yields less likely. As harvest begins, yields are extremely varied. Where adequate rainfall was present, the crop is expected to be close to normal; however, where rain was scarce, yields are expected to be several hundred pounds per acre below normal. "
Griggs said the short crop in the southeastern states, combined with the drought in Texas and a strong demand for peanuts, will put a lot of pressure on the market for the next 12 -18 months.
Alabama's corn harvest is expected to be lower than last year due to extreme heat and drought, said Federation Wheat and Feed Grains and Cotton Divisions Director Buddy Adamson.
"Preliminary harvest reports range from 5 bushels to 125 bushels on dryland, and up to 175 bushels on irrigated land," Adamson said of the cotton harvest statewide. "Both dryland and irrigated yields are less than hoped for, and heat seems to be the main reason."
Fayette County Farmers Federation Board Member Chris Gary said he hasn't been discouraged by his corn harvest so far, but had hoped for better.
"It's not nearly as good as I'd like for it to be," said Gary, who planted 325 acres of corn. "The hot weather we had in May and June was rough on the corn."
Cotton harvest had just begun in some areas of the state at press time, but Adams said the cotton he planted early, which was harvested first, looks the best.
"What we replanted late actually looks pretty good, but I'm afraid that time will catch us and it won't mature in time," he said.
Adamson said projected cotton yields range from 200 to 800 pounds per acre. Wheat yields this summer were very good, with some fields yielding over 90 bushels per acre, he said.
Federation Soybean Director Steve Guy said projected high prices for corn and cotton translated into reduced soybean acreage for the state this year. He said dry weather, particularly in south Alabama, hurt the early soybean crop, which can expect lower yields.
"The good news is that even though we had a smaller crop and reduced yields, prices are still holding," he said.
Prices for all crops this year are good; however, a good price doesn't do much good with low yields and high input costs, Adams said.
"Most farmers around here would be satisfied to have an average crop with all we've been through," he said.