Farm tour is reminder of long-standing tradition in Alabama

The juxtaposition of constant change and long-standing tradition was stark during the recent Central Alabama Crops Tour, which I’ve always referred to as my “home tour,” since it usually begins just outside Auburn.

In a year in which farmers in this region have seen record rainfall amounts and emerging insect and disease pests, the crops tour — in its 35th year — is assurance that amidst the ever-changing farmscape, there is still a constant here and there.

Long-time Auburn University Extension Entomologist Ron Smith remembered the first crops tour as one which was used to illustrate the effectiveness of pyrethroids in cotton insect control. “The pyrethroids were working such magic for us that year compared to what we had previous to that time,” he said.

This year wasn’t so bad from an insect standpoint, said Smith. “But can you imagine where we would be if we had boll weevils in the system and non-genetic cotton varieties? We’d probably be meeting today to discuss abandoning fields.”

Instead, most fields in east-central Alabama were either deep green in vegetation or drowned out in low spots.

Extension Peanut Specialist Kris Balkcom said it had been a challenging year for cotton and peanut producers in the state. “In east Alabama, growers have seen rainfall amounts of up to 69 inches. We have places in the southeast corner of the state that have had about 80 inches. Nothing can survive in saturated soils, and we’ll probably have about 7 percent of the crop drowned out in low-lying fields.”

While peanut producers have turned things around in some locations, Balkcom doesn’t think they’ll see the high yields that were made last year. “Some peanuts this past year made 8,000 pounds per acre. I’m seeing mainly a taproot crop in some of these fields this year.”

Rain always brings an increase in leaf spot disease in peanuts, said plant pathologist Austin Hagan, and 2013 was a perfect example. “A lot of the state’s peanuts have late leafspot. If a grower saw leafspot in the canopy, he needed to go in with a higher rate of Headline with or without some chlorothalonil. In areas with 70 inches of rain, growers potentially could have problems with every variety. On the flip side, it hasn’t been very hot this summer, so there hasn’t been every much white mold out there.”

Extension cotton specialist Dale Monks said farmers grow cotton in Alabama because the crop prefers hot, dry weather, and that’s usually the norm. “But this year, since the first part of May, some locations in Alabama have had from 45 to 55 rain days. Whenever you have rain days, it’s cloudy, and on the days that we didn’t have rain, it was cloudy. So it was literally overcast for more than a month. One grower I know had 10 inches of rain in a one-week period.”

Since cotton doesn’t like wet weather, most growers ended up with short plants, dead plants, and stand that just doesn’t quite produce, said Monks.

“We usually say that about the first part of September, maybe we can still bloom and have an open boll. The problem is that some of the blooms we’re seeing now are actually re-growth on top of plants because those plants cut out early.”

Maturity was already late because planting was delayed by cold weather in April, pushing growers further into May than usual, said Monks.

“Take that, and add in all the cloudy weather from this summer, and we’re at a minimum two weeks, maybe three weeks behind in some cases. It’s a big deal when we’re trying to set a later crop. I think we’ll see some fields with a tremendous cotton crop in some places, and other areas that were drowned out and are struggling to stay alive. It’ll be a mixed bag with cotton this year.”

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