The heavy rainfall brought by Tropical Storm Fay in late August ultimately may prove mostly beneficial for Alabama's cotton and peanut crops, according to Extension specialists during the East Central Alabama Cotton-Peanut Tour, held on Aug. 27.
“This storm was not spotty, but different areas did receive different amounts of rainfall,” says Dale Monks, Auburn University Extension cotton specialist. “In Mobile and Baldwin counties, they received 4 to 6 inches while in north Alabama, they received anywhere from 2.5 to 5 inches.”
In the midst of the storm, the USDA estimated that 30 percent of Alabama's cotton crop had opened, says Monks. “As temperatures go back up in the 90s and the sun comes out, this cotton will really pop open. We expect that a lot of the little growth at the top will shed off.”
Alabama's estimated cotton yield before the storm was about 700 pounds, he says. “At this point, we just don't know where we are. Whenever cotton starts opening, get defoliants on it. These plants will try to start back up again,” he says.
Looking at Alabama's cotton acreage this year, Monks says that with increases in soybeans, corn and peanuts, cotton acreage is down to about 310,000.
“The word I'm getting from north Alabama is that if prices don't give us some support for more acres, we'll see even fewer cotton acres in the coming year. If prices remain where they are and pressure on acreage remains down, we expect to see a few less acres of cotton next year,” he says.
The long-term implications of this decreasing acreage are unknown, says Monks. “The biggest thing is that the infrastructure suffers — gin and warehouses suffer whenever acreage drops. A grain bin can store different crops, but all a cotton gin can do is gin cotton,” he says.
On the bright side, the ability to rotate into a cash crop is better for farmers in the long-term, he adds.
Alabama's peanut acreage is estimated at about 200,000 acres this year, up from 160,000 in 2007, says Kris Balkcom, Extension agronomist. “We typically were growing about 220,000 acres annually, but a change in the markets and supply and demand brought that number down. Prices looked better this year, and the good contracts brought us an increase in acres, which helps growers because they get a better rotation,” he says.
Even though this past growing season was “terrible,” says Balkcom, Alabama producers still made an average peanut yield of 2,600 pounds per acre. “In the past, when we'd grow 220,000 acres every year, our yields would be 1,800 to 2,100 pounds per acre, so we've come a long way by increasing our rotation and getting into some fresh ground. This has been helpful for the peanut industry, and it has been helpful for growers by giving them a good commodity to rotate,” he says.
This year, Alabama's peanut crop looks to be in good shape, says Balkcom. “The rains from Tropical Storm Fay mostly helped us. Anytime you can get a big rain in August, it's a plus for peanuts because we set a lot more fruit. As a whole, not everyone across the peanut belt received 5 to 7 inches of rain — some received even more,” he says.
As growers start thinking about next year, Balkcom says it's encouraging that there's already talk of peanut contracts. “With our acres up in Alabama and Georgia, we still have a market for peanuts, with some talk of contracts in the $600 to $650 range for next year,” he says.