If you lean out the window, you can hear the hum as Deep South peanut and cotton planters yank into high gears and farmers get back on track after a soggy delay. Some farmers are still tracking down their topsoil and repairing field washes, but all in all, May’s weather has been much more friendly to planting.
Farmers in south Georgia, the Florida Panhandle and dang near all of Alabama have danced through the raindrops to get spring planting done, or much too often they had to sit like wallflowers as frequent and prolonged heavy downpours sidelined them.
April said farewell with a big sloppy kiss, ending with a storm system dropping double-digit rain amounts in two days in some locations. Though it has rained in May a few times, welcomed, and much less extreme, weather has returned.
Ronnie Barentine is the University of Georgia Extension coordinator in Dooly County, located in south-central Georgia. He told the Georgia Agricultural Statistics Service:
“Last week was the best we’ve had all season for planting operations as we are starting to see cotton and peanuts cracking the ground. Watermelons on plastic improved last week with sunshine. Wheat starting to dry down some but there are some issues with fusarium infecting heads.”
Peanut and cotton planting is behind in Georgia, but not as much as you’d expect considering the weather. Not much was planted early and some farmers report being two to three weeks behind where “they’d like to be.” But if the drier weather holds, and for now it looks like it might, both crops will catch up to normal pace pretty fast.
A bad situation looms
Alabama farmers are a bit more behind typical pace. About a third of the cotton was planted as of last week where usually about half is in the ground by then. About 20 percent of the peanuts were planted, only a bit behind typical pace.
Brandon Dillard is the Alabama Cooperative Extension regional agent for southeast Alabama. He tells Alabama’s Agricultural Statistics Service:
“Several farmers have zero acres planted at this point. It is becoming a bad situation for many. … We could be looking the third week of May in the face with no seed in the ground. Some farmers are still trying to fix washes in the field or broke terraces while others are having to plant around them.”
Farmers in the Panhandle and north Florida say they’re two to four weeks behind schedule on planting field crops due to excessively wet field conditions.
I’ve seen a good bit of soil crusting in some places and that is no surprise. Peanuts and cotton planted ahead of a heavy downpour or into too-wet soil followed by baking sun now struggle to bust through the concrete-like crust in fields. This is especially tough for cotton seedlings to break through.
The answer, ironically, is a good dose of “The Hair of the Dog,” in this case a light shower or irrigation application to soften the soil. I’ve seen some center pivots on for just this reason and some rotary hoeing going on to relieve cotton seedlings as they swell up under hard dirt.
But again, all and all, the region’s weather has turned more favorable for planting in May and things are drying out. This year’s cotton and peanut crops didn’t get a chance to charge out of the gate. But after sitting in the barn for far too long watching it rain, the latch has been lifted and the race is on.