Despite a drought that is well into its third year, growers in the lower Southeast are expecting mostly better yields this year than in 2007, thanks primarily to some well-timed rainfall over the region, according to this year's first crop production forecast from the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Many parts of Georgia, Alabama and Florida continue to suffer from dry conditions, but sporadic showers during the planting season and throughout the summer have been enough to sustain crops in most areas. It hasn't been enough, however, to replenish subsoil moisture, stream flows, and river, lake and pond levels, all of which remain abnormally low in some areas.
The first forecast of Georgia's row crops indicates all yields are up from last year except for peanuts, which show a slight decline. Production of cotton, corn and tobacco are down, while peanuts and soybeans are up.
Temperatures during the growing season have averaged above normal. And while most areas of the state have suffered through drought conditions during the summer, showers began increasing in July and this trend continued into early August. Irrigation has been very active this year in most parts of Georgia.
Georgia's 2008 cotton crop is forecast to average 809 pounds of lint per harvested acre, 8 pounds per acre more than last year's yield of 801 pounds per acre. Cotton has suffered somewhat from the dry summer. As of Aug. 10, 10 percent was rated very poor or poor, while 38 percent was fair and 52 percent was rated good to excellent.
Acreage expected to be harvested this fall is estimated at 890,000 acres, down 105,000 acres from last year. Production is estimated at 1,500,000 bales, 10 percent less than last year's 1,660,000 bales.
Corn yield for 2008 is expected to average 140 bushels per harvested acre, 10 bushels more than last year's yield of 130 bushels per acre. If this yield is realized, it will be a state record.
Above-normal summer temperatures and drought conditions have taken its toll on the dryland corn crop. Georgia's total corn production is expected to total 44.8 million bushels from 320,000 acres harvested for grain. Production of this size would be 23 percent less than last year. The dry spring caused planting progress to be much slower than normal.
Peanut production in Georgia is forecast at 1.98 billion pounds, compared with last year's 1.64 billion pounds. Harvested acres are expected to be 640,000 compared with 520,000 in 2007.
Yields across Georgia's peanut belt are expected to average 3,100 pounds per acre compared with 3,150 pounds last year. Many producers were spraying for diseases, and as of Aug. 10, the crop was rated 11 percent excellent, 47 percent good, 33 percent fair and 9 percent poor to very poor.
Soybean yields in Georgia are forecast to average 30 bushels per harvested acre. The dry weather and heat have caused problems for the crop, but July showers in some areas have aided the crop. Production is forecast at 12.2 million bushels, up from the 8.25 million bushels last year.
Harvested acres are estimated to be 405,000 acres. This compares to 275,000 acres harvested in 2007.
Final soybean yield and production will depend heavily on September weather conditions.
Georgia tobacco yields for 2008 are expected to average 2,450 pounds per acre, 300 pounds more than last year's yield of 2,150 pounds per acre. Tomato spotted wilt virus has not been as bad as in recent years.
As of Aug. 10, the crop was rated 1 percent very poor, 7 percent poor, 25 percent fair, 48 percent good and 19 percent excellent. Acreage harvested is expected to be 16,000 acres, 2,500 acres less than last year. This puts potential production at 39.2 million pounds for the year 2008, 1 percent less than in 2007.
Hay production is expected to total 1.47 million tons, 22 percent more than last year. Potential yields are forecast at 2.10 tons per acre, compared with 1.80 tons in 2007. Conditions did improve some in July.
Acreage cut for hay totals 700,000 acres, up 30,000 acres from last year.
In Alabama, the areas most affected by drought in 2007 have received rainfall this summer, resulting in an improved forecast for all crop yields. But the drought is still having an effect.
As of mid August, 33 percent of the corn, 14 percent of the cotton, 35 percent of the soybeans and 6 percent of the peanuts were rated as being in poor to very poor condition.
The corn condition as of Aug. 3 was rated 65 percent fair to excellent condition with 95 percent of the crop reaching the dent stage and 70 percent reaching the dough stage. The corn yield was forecast at 95 bushels per acre, up 16 bushels from last year, giving a production of 21,850,000 bushels.
Alabama's cotton crop condition was rated 88 percent in the fair to excellent condition, with 98 percent cotton squaring and 73 percent setting boils. The cotton lint yield, as of Aug. 1, was set at 701 pounds per acre, with cotton production being forecast at 438,000 bales. The cotton in north Alabama was maturing rapidly while cotton in south Alabama was blooming from knee to chest high.
Soybean yield had increased slightly by 3 bushels from the previous year to 24 bushels per acre. The conditions for soybeans were 67 percent fair to excellent along with 73 percent of soybeans blooming and 41 percent of soybeans setting pods. The yield for soybeans was estimated at 24 bushels per acre, giving a production of 7,440,000 bushels.
The crop progress for peanuts continued to be scattered with stands in excellent shape and others being below normal. Yet peanuts still showed 92 percent fair to excellent condition. Peanut yield was estimated at 2,700 pounds per acre, up 100 pounds from previous year.
Hay yields were expected at 2.6 tons per acre and production being 2,210,000 tons. Pasture and range conditions were rated 71 percent in fair to excellent condition.
Farther south, in Florida, rainfall continued into July and August and conditions for most crops improved. The central and southern regions of Florida received significant precipitation. Throughout the Panhandle, rain showers were occurring, but less frequently.
Florida's cotton production is expected to total 107,000 bales compared to 116,000 bales harvested last year. Yield per acre is set at 734 pounds, up 7 percent from the 687 pounds per acre for the 2007 crop. Acreage to be picked is estimated at 70,000 acres, down 11,000 acres from a year ago.
Harvested peanut acreage is forecast at 110,000 acres, down 9,000 acres from last year. Yield is expected to average 3,200 pounds per acre, up 500 pounds from the 2007 crop yield. Production is set at 352 million pounds, up from the 321 million pounds produced last year.