I'm not complaining, but much of the Southeast needs more than a few extra days of sunshine. If you’re having trouble with cotton or soybean harvest due to rain, you’re not alone.
At the Georgia Association of County Agriculture Agents annual meeting earlier this month, several agents said row crop growers in their counties had “Thank-you-very-much” enough of the soggy field conditions as of late. Most of Georgia’s peanut crop has now been harvested but an estimated 20 percent was still in fields as the week of Nov. 9 came to an end, and many dug fields are still very wet. Peanut sprouting is being reported in isolated areas.
Cotton is sprouting in fields, too, at a higher rate than normal and certainly much higher than farmers mind, said several of the Georgia agents.
A grower the second week in November told me he was a quarter of the way finished harvesting his cotton. By Veteran’s Day last year, he was closer to three-quarters finished with his cotton. His area of central-south Georgia had received six inches of rain in the last eight days. His cotton had taken a pretty good beating but was rebounding back for now. He said if he could get a good five to seven days of sunny weather, he’d still be behind … just not as worried.
It seems the Deep South has hit a pattern in the last month: heavy rain with only a few isolated consecutive sunny days. The concern is this pattern might be the norm for the rest of fall and winter. With a strong El Niño now looming, it may indeed be the pattern.
Rome Ethredge, University of Georgia Extension coordinator in Seminole County, says in his Nov. 9 blog:
"There’s still a whole lot of cotton in the fields that needs to be picked. Most of the cotton has been defoliated to knock the leaves off and open the later set bolls, so it needs to be picked but now it’s very wet. We need several days of sunshine to dry the cotton out and dry the fields out so that equipment doesn’t get stuck moving through the fields. Most fields have “wet spots” in them where even with a few days of sunny weather they still hold water and this will be a problem."
Of course, no farmers have been hit harder than those in South Carolina. Some of them can’t catch a break. After last month’s historic flooding, rain continued to hit areas that needed dry conditions for some farmers to have any hopes of getting any harvest.
In a Nov. 12 blog, Clemson University Extension coordinator in Marion County, SC, Justin Ballew writes:
“Over the past two weeks, wet, overcast returned to the area and dumped another 2-6 inches of rain over the Pee Dee. Once again, harvest was halted, river and stream levels went up, and several fields flooded. The latest statewide crop loss estimates from the FSA are 80 percent loss of peanuts, 85 percent loss of cotton, and 50 percent loss of soybeans. If this winter trend continues, we will lose a lot more soybeans. Luckily sun has returned to the forecast. Hopefully it will stay a while and dry things out.”
This damage will result in a loss of income
In Alabama, Gov. Robert Bentley sent a letter Nov. 12 to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, asking for help for Alabama cotton, peanuts, pecans, soybeans and sweet potato farmers who had damaged crops caused by excessive rain.
“All of this damage will result in a loss of income to Alabama’s agricultural industry,” Bentley said in his letter.
He asked for a disaster declaration for Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Coffee, Conecuh, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, Escambia, Geneva, Henry, Houston, Macon, Pike and Russell counties.
“Even if a disaster declaration is granted, it’s unclear what it would mean for affected farmers,” says an Alabama Farmers Federation press release Nov. 13. “The farm bill passed by Congress in 2014 sets policy for national agriculture, nutrition, conservation and forestry programs. Instead of funding disaster assistance, the bill focused on crop insurance plans for farmers.”
In a quick text Nov. 12, Worth County, Ga., peanut and cotton farmer Johnny Cochran summed up what I think many are feeling: “Need 15 days of sunshine and northwest winds." Since the last storm early in the week of Nov. 9, Cochran's area had five consecutive days of sunshine as of Nov. 16 ... and counting.