In parts of the Carolinas and southeast Virginia, 100-year monthly rainfall records sometimes fell back to back to back from April through August.
The short-term effect will be total crop losses in some cases, yield reductions in others and surprisingly little damage in some fields.
“I’ve planted a crop every year since 1962, and I’ve never seen anything like the rainfall we saw this year. I’ve seen crops drowned out by hurricanes and tropical storm and I’ve lost crops to drought and flooding in the same year, but not the continual heavy rainfall throughout the planting and growing season,” says South Carolina farmer Jimmie McMillan.
He says the most unusual thing he saw was a school of minnows swimming in a flooded-out area near his farm shop.
Upon closer inspection, he says he saw an eel swimming around in the floodwater on land he’d never seen flooded before.
Pictures of alligators in cotton fields and bears climbing across partially submerged irrigation pivots to go from one dry spot to another are rare and tangible evidence of how unusual the 2013 weather played out across the Southeast in 2013.
Animals in strange places make for interesting conversation and good fodder for social media sites, but at the end of these unusual weather events, these creatures will go back to their natural habitat and be of little more than a nuisance and reminder of the historic rainfall.
Problems down the road
Unfortunately, what farmers didn’t see or record for posterity, will likely cause significant problems for some time to come.
Weeds and grasses are likely to be major issues for fall crops this year and for spring-planted ones next year.
For starters, many growers simply couldn’t get into their fields to manage weeds. Also, thousands of acres were abandoned and no herbicides were used in an effort to soften the economic blow of losing part of a crop.
Then, there is both a build-up of seed from old foes, like Palmer amaranth, panicum, goosegrass, and on down the line.
Plus, who knows what new weed foes the historic 100-year record rains and subsequent flooding brought to the table?
There is no reliable way to know, because there has simply never been this level of rainfall — not in the past 100 years.
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Weed scientists can make educated guesses, but most contend that’s about the extent of reliable advice they can give growers.
Diseases are much the same.
Peanut growers, for example, battled typical early-season soilborne diseases basically all year long, plus they had to deal with longer-than-usual heavy pressure from early and late leafspot.
“As expected from all the rainfall, we saw a lot of disease pressure on peanuts around the state,” says Clemson Peanut Specialist Scott Monfort.
“In many cases, growers simply couldn’t get into fields to apply fungicides and there weren’t enough aerial applicators to compensate for ground application.
Never caught up
“The result was some growers got behind on their fungicide program and just never caught up,” he says.
In some cases growers faced physiological problems on crops that they had never seen before. Stem split on peanuts, which was most likely caused indirectly by the excessive rainfall, showed up sporadically in peanut fields in the Southeast.
Some fields in Georgia were leveled by the phenomena and a few in South Carolina.
In North Carolina, a number of soybean growers reported burn on plants they couldn’t explain. In some cases, says North Carolina State Plant Pathologist Steve Koenning, the burn was likely caused by physiological conditions within the plant.
Soybeans in several areas hit by excessive rainfall this summer exhibited a symptom referred to as “Physiological Scorch”.
When there is extensive chlorosis (yellowing) between the veins of the leaf, or necrosis (dead tissue) between the veins, which may occur on the top of the plant or throughout the plant, plant pathologists refer to this symptom as physiological scorch.
This burning, or scorching of plant leaves, typically occurs when the roots and vascular system aren’t effectively doing their job, such as when root and/or stem pathogens restrict the vascular system when soybean is in the reproductive phase, especially during pod filling.
“We suspect in some cases no disease may be involved or specifically to blame for these symptoms. Wet or saturated soils through much of the state have resulted in root systems that are poorly developed.
“What we view as a ‘burning up of the plant’ is really just the plant response to a water and nutrient shortage when demand is greatest.
“Once plants enter the reproductive stage, they will add only a few new roots and will not replace those that have died, thus the plant is limited in what it can do,” Koenning says.
The third star on the usual pest threat list, insects, likewise took advantage of the record rainfall to create some ill-timed, if not unusual problems for growers in the Upper Southeast.
Though all crops seemed to be hit with their share of insect problems this year, perhaps cotton was hit hardest. The crop was late-planted and late-maturing and perhaps more than any other of the region’s main commodities, affected by the prolonged rainfall and cool, damp weather.
Growers like Estill, S.C., cotton and peanut grower Doug Jarrell didn’t really need any additional problems with his cotton. Jarrell and his father have been growing crops in their little corner of southeast South Carolina all their lives.
Never experienced it before
“My father remembers his grandfather talking about extended flooding and really unusual weather occurrences, but neither of us have ever been through anything close to what we had to deal with from all the rain we got this year,” Jarrell says.
Back in April they planted 1,100 acres of cotton. Now, they are hoping to salvage a decent crop from the 600 or so acres that are left in production.
Like many farmers, Jarrell is faced with the reality that on some land he will have good yields and in other fields no crop.
The uncertainty comes with crop insurance, which is generally based on overall crop production. How that will be sorted out is a whole different dilemma left behind by the record rainfall.
Other cotton growers, like Luray, S.C. growers Bud and Corrin Bowers, pride themselves on being wise marketers of their crop.
Wise usually entails forward booking a percentage of their cotton, leaving some ‘wiggle room’ for drought, flood, pests and other normally occurring phenomena.
Unfortunately, the 100-year rainfall that inundated their crops from May through August were anything but ‘normal’.
Forward booking a good percentage of cotton, then losing half their crop or more to the rainfall, left many growers with a lack of cotton to deliver.
How the economic problems associated with the record rainfall will be sorted out will be critical to the recovery period for many farmers.
It might also be critical to the recovery of the whole agriculture infrastructure in the Southeast.
Every bale of cotton lost to the flooding was also lost to cotton gins and cotton warehouses and so on down the line to the final customer. Change the crop and the result is much the same, some degree of ‘less than expected’ is going to be a common theme this fall in communities throughout the Southeast.
Perhaps Doug Jarrell has it figured out as well as anyone. “I attribute all this weird weather to the number 13.
“My grandfather used to tell me, ‘I remember back when this or that happened. So, I guess, if I ever have grandchildren, 2013 will be the one I’ll tell my grandchildren about,’” he says.