Prospects reduced: Drought hits yields in Alabama, Florida

The first yield estimates of the year for row crops grown in Alabama and north Florida reveal the devastating effects of a prolonged drought that began two years ago in some areas.

"Dry weather beginning last winter has caused severe drought conditions over much of the state, especially in the Wiregrass area of south Alabama," says Herb Vanderberry, state statistician for the Alabama Agricultural Statistics Service. "Many farmers postponed planting, waiting for rains that never came. The continued drought conditions this summer greatly reduced prospects for row crops, vegetables, hay crops and pastures."

The worst fields in Alabama already have been abandoned, says Vanderberry. The August yield forecast for major row crops all are well below their 10-year averages, he adds.

Cotton yield prospects in north Alabama declined rapidly in August, according to Charlie Burmester, Auburn University Extension agronomist.

"Extremely hot, dry weather has wilted cotton fields across the Tennessee Valley area. In many cases, growers were counting on harvesting cotton bolls that either have dropped off the plants or quit developing. Cotton is opening very rapidly and some cotton was defoliated during the third week of August," says Burmester.

Cotton quality also is becoming a concern, as growers worry that staple length again may be short this year, notes the agronomist.

"Most corn producers are making better yields than expected. Many dryland corn fields are making 100 bushels per acre. Irrigated corn yields of 150 to 170 bushels per acre have been reported," he says.

Cotton in the central and southern counties of Alabama has continued to suffer from drought conditions and high temperatures, says Dale Monks, Auburn University Extension cotton specialist. "Some fields in the Coastal Plain soils are wilted by 9 a.m. The 100-plus degree temperatures in August have increased the rate of maturity, and many fields are ready to defoliate," said Monks in late August.

Large losses

Abandonment in the central and southern tier of counties in Alabama has been estimated as high as 35 to 40 percent, he says. Soybeans also have suffered and are having a difficult time setting and filling pods, he adds.

The hardest hit row crop in Alabama appears to be peanuts, according to the yield estimate report. Alabama peanut producers are expected to harvest only 1,400 pounds per acre from about 197,000 acres. This compares to 2,175 pounds per acre harvested from 206,000 acres in 1999. Production, estimated at 275,800,000 pounds, is well below last year's crop of 448,050,000 pounds.

The state's cotton producers expect an average yield of 489 pounds per acre from 540,000 acres. This compares to 535 pounds per acre from 561,000 acres in 1999.

Alabama soybean producers expect a 2000 crop of 19 bushels per acre from 170,000 acres. This compares to the 1999 numbers of 16 bushels per acre from 200,000 acres.

Corn yields

Corn growers expect a yield this year of 65 bushels per acre from 200,000 acres. This compares to 103 bushels per acre from 200,000 acres in 1999.

In the Florida Panhandle, cotton growers expect yields to average 420 pounds per acre, down 96 pounds from last year. Acreage for harvest is estimated at 92,000 acres, down 14,000 acres from 1999. Production is estimated at 80,555 bales, down 29 percent from last year. This year's cotton crop was rated mostly in fair to good condition in August.

The average yield for Florida peanut producers is estimated at 2,400 pounds per acre, down 370 pounds from last year's average. Production is estimated at 192,000,000 pounds, down 26 percent from the 1999 production. Acreage for harvest is estimated at 80,000 acres, down 15 percent from a year earlier.

Florida tobacco growers plan to harvest 4,900 acres in 2000, down 900 acres from last year. Yield is forecast at 2,500 pounds per acre, down from the 2,640 pounds in 1999. Production is estimated at 12,250,000 pounds, down 20 percent from last year.