Southeast crops wilt under intense heat, drought

A second week of blistering temperatures teamed with continuing drought to wilt crops across most of the Southeast for the week ending Aug. 19.

Corn and tobacco harvests were well under way with yields running the gamut. Peanuts, soybeans and cotton had reached growth stages where water needs were critical.

Here’s a look at the overall situation as reported by the various state USDA NASS field offices.


After a second straight week of scorching temperatures, the U.S. Drought Monitor categorized 73.1 percent of Alabama land as suffering from exceptional drought conditions. This was an increase of 21.3 percent from the previous week.

There were no exceptional drought conditions observed in the state a year ago.

Temperatures well above the century mark were recorded by weather stations across the state, and were as many as 11 degrees above normal in numerous areas. Hamilton reached a daytime high of 109 degrees, while Bay Minette topped out at 97 degrees.

Overnight lows ranged from 63 degrees in Hamilton to 74 degrees in Birmingham and Mobile.

Rain showers were seen in many areas across the state, but offered little relief from the catastrophic conditions experienced by most crops already this year.

Russell C. Parrish, Jr., Crenshaw County Extension agent, indicated that 100 plus degree temperatures, coupled with little to no rainfall, had the county in a situation as bad as or worse than the drought in 2000.

Alabama’s corn crop was reported mostly in very poor or poor condition as harvest got under way in counties with a crop remaining.

Heath Potter, regional Extension agent for Colbert, Lauderdale and Lawrence Counties, noted that producers had harvested corn yields ranging from 25 to 110 bushels per acre. The higher yielding fields had received adequate late season rains.

James D. Jones, Jr., Henry County Extension agent, reported that corn harvest in the county was under way, and producers indicated poor yields on most dryland fields.

The condition of the state’s soybean crop grew worse during the past week, with nearly three-quarters of the crop indicated to be very poor or poor.

Warren Griffith, regional Extension agent for Fayette, Lamar, Pickens and Tuscaloosa Counties, stated the wind and heat continued to diminish soybean yields because the pods were not filling out.

Mr. Potter added that there were virtually no soybeans in northwestern Alabama due to unsuitable planting conditions. Those farmers that were able to plant a crop did not expect to have enough production to pay for the harvest.

Cotton and peanut progress that was made after timely July rains deteriorated quickly because of searing temperatures. Shane Seay in the Limestone County FSA office noted that many cotton stands are wilted and scorched.

The rain showers that were received were more detrimental than beneficial. Many producers had cotton stands that were either not filling out bolls or the bolls were falling off of plants.

Although the majority of the peanut crop was reported in fair to excellent condition, most fields needed rain at the peak time of crop set. Peanut fields in Covington County were reported to have peanuts prematurely drying in the ground.

The hot, dry weather negatively impacted the state’s vegetable crop, regardless of whether irrigation was available. Dan Porch, regional Extension agent, indicated that irrigated and non-irrigated pumpkins looked bad. Disease pressure was high, and the plants were not setting fruit.

Some late tomatoes were not setting fruit due to high over night temperatures. False chinch bugs were reported as a problem in one tomato field due to the very dry soil conditions.

The market for summer crops was off, but some upward movement was seen over the weekend. Tomatoes, cantaloupes and watermelons had been very cheap.

During the past week, pasture conditions worsened. Many ponds had dried up, and all other natural water sources were extremely low.

Jimmy Smitherman, Montgomery County Extension agent, mentioned that hay yields are very small, and pastures are very dry. Mr. Parrish noted that some first cuttings of hay in Crenshaw County were fair, but producers are not expecting to get a second cutting without some moisture soon.

Livestock found little forage to graze, and spent most of their time in any available shade trying to stay cool.


The scorching temperatures continued, according to the USDA, NASS, Georgia Field Office. Average high temperatures were in the upper 90's most of the week, with a number of areas breaking 100 several days in a row.

Low temperatures averaged in the 70s.

Average rainfall was 0.41 inches. Soil moisture conditions were rated at 33 percent very short, 41 percent short, 26 percent adequate, and 0 percent surplus.

The extremely hot and dry weather stressed crops and livestock. Pastures and hayfields were drying up. Late-planted corn was tasseling and needed rain.

Farmers irrigated fields where water was available. Significant rains will be needed to complete crops.

Insect and worm pressure increased in cotton, peanuts, and pastures. There were pigweed control problems in peanuts, soybeans, and cotton.

No major diseases were reported except some Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus in peanuts.

Corn harvest was under way and some excellent yields were reported.

Other activities included harvesting tobacco, cutting hay, feeding hay to livestock, irrigating crops, spraying fungicides on peanuts, planting fall vegetables, and the routine care of poultry and livestock.

County Extension agents reported an average of 6.5 days suitable for fieldwork.


Scattered showers aided some peanut and cotton fields in the eastern Panhandle, but missed others in western parts during the week of Aug. 13-19. Significant rains also fell over some west central and southern parts of the Peninsula. Rainfall for the week ranged from traces to nearly five inches in West Palm Beach. However, several localities recorded no rain for the week.

Temperatures in the major cities averaged normal to four degrees above. Daytime highs were in the 90s while nighttime lows ranged from the upper 60s to mostly low 70s. Marianna and Tallahassee recorded at least one daily high at 99 degrees.

In Santa Rosa County, the youngest cotton is in early bloom stage while the oldest plants show bottom bolls opening.

In drier parts of the Panhandle, dryland peanuts are turning white due to no rain. Peanut condition was rated two percent very poor, 20 percent poor, 38 percent fair, 30 percent good, and 10 percent excellent.

Haymaking is active. However a considerable amount of hay fields are not growing due to dry conditions. Soybean rust was visually identified in a few Jefferson County fields.

Soil moisture supplies were rated short to adequate in all areas. However, subsoil moisture was rated mostly very short to short in the Panhandle.

Jackson, Marion, Hernando, and Hendry counties reported some localities with surplus soil moisture.

Southern Peninsula vegetable growers are busy preparing land and laying plastic for fall crop planting. Some growers irrigated soils prior to forming beds. Pepper and tomato transplanting is under way in southern Peninsula localities.


Dry, hot weather last week allowed Tennessee tobacco producers to make excellent progress with harvesting and topping. Harvest was progressing from on-schedule to a week ahead of last year with the crop rated in mostly fair-to-good condition.

The state's other major row crops remained in mostly poor-to-fair condition and in desperate need of a good downpour and cooler temperatures.

Tennessee's corn crop continues to progress closer to harvest with almost half of the acreage having attained maturity.

One-fifth of the state's cotton crop has begun to open, while over a tenth of the soybeans are dropping leaves. Soybean development is about a week ahead of the five-year average, with numerous cases of heat and moisture stress reported.

Pastures continued to deteriorate, while livestock producers fed hay and hauled water.

Other activities across the state included silage harvest and preparing machinery for harvest.

There were 7 days last week considered suitable for fieldwork. Topsoil moisture levels were rated 69 percent very short, 27 percent short, and 4 percent adequate. Subsoil moisture levels were rated 71 percent very short, 27 percent short, and 2 percent adequate.

Temperatures last week averaged well above normal, while rainfall averaged below normal across most of the state.

County Agent Comments

"The row crop situation has become critical over this week and last week being extremely hot and dry. With no immediate rainfall relief in sight expect crop conditions to continue to rapidly deteriorate. Early Group II & Group III soybean harvest on a few acres have started this week. A few corn acres are being reported to have been harvested this week but that has not been confirmed. Expecting both corn and soybean harvest to begin in full swing by the last week of this month." Tim Campbell, Dyer County

"Cotton has begun to open prematurely due to dry weather. Wheat beans beginning to die." Richard Buntin, Crockett County

"The situation for most farmers has gone from bad to depressing. Some cattle producers are selling entire herds. Tobacco growers with irrigation capabilities are pumping water around the clock." Ronnie Barron, Cheatham County

"This week of over 100 degree temperatures has really effected Giles County agriculture drastically. Cotton is looking very bad now. Cotton and soybeans wilting in the field. Some soybeans are trying to set pods at only 14-16 inches tall. Silage corn harvested has very little grain. Practically all pastures are gone. Most producers feeding hay or selling cattle. Record sale numbers recorded at the local stock yard over the last couple of weeks. Many producers selling because they have no water. Ponds, streams, and springs have dried up. Unofficial temperatures for Wednesday

and Thursday reached 109 degrees." Kevin Rose, Giles County

"I was at a beef producer's farm yesterday. He had to move his cows to a different field because the spring dried up. He's 76 and says it has never been dry before. One of my top beef producers told me today that he had to sell all of his calves he had consigned to an organized sale later this fall. No hay! These 98-100 degree days with no rain have taken a toll on all crops. Beans are dropping leaves with no sign of a bean or bloom. Corn producers are planning on round baling their crop." John Goddard, Loudon County

South Carolina

A third week with days of temperatures exceeding 100 degrees coupled with little or no precipitation has led to rapidly deteriorating crop and livestock conditions for the state.

Rain is desperately needed soon if decent yields can in any way be expected from many field crops. Irrigation ponds in some areas have become nearly exhausted.

Soil moisture ratings were very dry averaging 63 percent very short, 31 percent short, and 6 percent adequate.

Statewide, for the second week in a row, there was an average of 6.6 days suitable for field work.

Corn harvest was ongoing with yields less than what had been hoped, but not terrible for most people. It was fortunate that most of the corn crop had been made before it had gotten as hot and dry as it has now.

The conditions for the week were 11 percent very poor, 24 percent poor, 41 percent fair, 21 percent good, and 3 percent excellent.

Cotton leaves, blooms, squares, and bolls were dropping in some fields due to the heat and drought. Conditions declined to 14 percent very poor, 24 percent poor, 41 percent fair, 20 percent good, and 1 percent excellent.

It was an important time for peanuts as pods were filling, but the crop was under significant stress due to a lack of soil moisture. Conditions were 4 percent very poor, 10 percent poor, 55 percent fair, 30 percent good, and 1 percent excellent.

Soybeans were still rust free in South Carolina, and with the current dry weather situation, pod and stem diseases have not been a factor on unirrigated fields. Conditions were 17 percent very poor, 23 percent poor, 44 percent fair, and 16 percent good.

The tobacco harvest continued. Conditions were 3 percent very poor, 15 percent poor, 40 percent fair, 39 percent good, and 3 percent excellent.

Hay is pretty much done for the year. The crop was very short in areas, and livestock producers have had to put their cattle on hay early, because of pasture conditions that have hardly been good at all. With the short supply, hay prices have been very high, and cattlemen have taken their low weight stock to market ahead of intentions.

A small late variety peach crop was still being harvested. Apple harvest has begun with poor yields. The crop was in very poor to fair condition.

North Carolina

All areas of North Carolina experienced less than 1 inch of rainfall for the week, with Oxford having the most precipitation, .68 inches.

There were 6.6 days suitable for field work compared to 6.4 from the previous week.

Statewide soil moisture levels are rated at 53 percent very short, 34 percent short, 13 percent adequate, and 0 percetn surplus.

Activities during the week included harvesting silage corn, peaches, hay, and flue-cured tobacco, as well as scouting for pest and disease problems.


Scattered storms swept across the Commonwealth this past week with temperatures still remaining high. Showers continued to be very spotty with variable amounts of precipitation.

Livestock farmers are still feeding hay, which has caused much apprehension about winter stocks. For this reason, many cattle farmers have begun to market their cattle early.

In areas that remain dry, excessive heat continues to diminish what forages are available. It has been reported that water sources are beginning to dry and livestock producers are having to transport water in from other locations.

Corn silage harvest is in full swing and is approximately 2 weeks ahead of schedule in some areas. Corn plants are beginning to dry down very rapidly to where harvest is not keeping up.

Producers are also expected to begin the grain corn harvest soon.

Soybeans are showing stress at a critical point when plants should be blooming and setting pods. Hot and dry weather conditions are beginning to cause concern about potential yields among producers.

Hot and dry conditions also continue to stress cotton and peanuts.

Vegetable harvest continues and the recent rains should help fall crops that are now being planted.

Other activities this week include planting fall crops, scouting for insects, and equipment repair.

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