Storms hinder cotton, peanut harvest

Tropical Storm Hanna and Hurricane Isidore, pushing their way through the lower Southeast beginning the second weekend in September, either were “too little too late” or “too much too late” for cotton and peanut producers in the region.

Some areas along the Gulf Coast received up to 15 inches of rain while counties further inland in Florida, Georgia and Alabama received only scattered rainfall from the storms. Most Extension specialists agree that the only effect of the weather systems on final crop yields might be detrimental in the form of hard lock and boll rot on cotton and reduced quality in peanuts. Tropical Storm Hanna wasn't nearly as devastating as other past storms, says Dale Monks, Auburn University Extension cotton specialist. “The wind wasn't as bad as we've seen with some tropical storms. I don't think much lint was removed by high winds, even in the Baldwin County area near the coast,” he says.

Concern is increasing, says Monks, about the potential damage to cotton from boll rot and hard lock. “Some of these areas were getting rain before the storm, so we're definitely expecting some damage from boll rot and hard lock. The rainfall is just too late for the moisture to do us much good.

“Cotton farmers who already had sprayed their fields with defoliants didn't want rainfall on their crop. Rain can knock seed cotton out of the bolls, and it also can reduce the quality of the lint.”

The rainfall from Hanna was a mixed blessing for peanut producers in Alabama's Wiregrass Region, says Dallas Hartzog, Extension agronomist.

“For those farmers who had peanuts dug and waiting to be combined, rain was really the last thing they wanted,” says Hartzog.

Rain, he adds, will degrade the quality of the peanuts. It also will increase field losses because of stem rot and mud on the nuts. The nuts drop off the plants before the combine can harvest the plants.

But, for those farmers who planted later, the rain is beneficial. “Rain now will help mature late peanuts and may improve those producers' yields.”

Don Ball, a forage agronomist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, says rain is vital at this time of year for producers who are planting forage crops in the fall.

“Rain is critical to those producers who are planting cool-season forage crops,” says Ball. “Producers cannot get new fields up to a stand without good soil moisture at planting and adequate rainfall after germination.”

He adds that rain is critical to already-established cool-season perennial grasses such as fescue. “Like warm-season grasses, these cool-season forages need regular rainfall to grow and remain healthy,” says Ball.

Alabama's cotton production for 2002 is forecast at 810,000 bales. If realized, this would be the second highest (last year's 920,000 bales was the highest) production in the past 10 years. Producers expect to harvest 665 pounds of lint per acre from 585,000 acres. The 10-year average yield is 604 pounds per acre.

Peanut producers expect to harvest 2,400 pounds per acre. Although this latest estimate is less that earlier forecasts, and 275 pounds below last year's yield, it still is more than the 10-year average of 2,167 pounds per acre. Producers expect to harvest 199,000 acres. If the current yield is realized, production will be 477.6 million pounds.

Soybean yield remains unchanged from earlier forecasts of 28 bushels per acre. Despite a decrease of seven bushels per acre compared with last year's record yield, this year's yield still is two bushels more than the 10-year average. Production is expected to total 3.92 million bushels. Harvested acreage is set at 140,000, up 5,000 acres from last year. The 10-year average yield is 26 bushels per acre.

Corn yield in Alabama remains at 84 bushels per acre, unchanged from previous estimates. If this yield is realized — along with the 200,000 acres projected for harvest, production will be 16.8 million bushels. Despite last year's record yield, this year's production is slightly above the 16.1 million bushel result from 2001. The 10-year average yield is 83 bushels per acre.

Parts of extreme southwest Georgia received more than 15 inches of rain from Hanna, says Extension Cotton Specialist Steve M. Brown, and some of those areas continued to receive rain in the days following the storm.

“Portions of fields were under water in the extreme southwest corner of the state,” says the agronomist. “We lost some cotton on the ground, and many growers are facing soggy conditions that'll keep them out of the fields for several days. We'll definitely see more boll rot and shattering as we go through this crop with a picker.”

Some dryland cotton growers, he adds, are being plagued by excessive regrowth, and wet fields are preventing them from doing anything about it.

“I believe our final average yield will be about 625 pounds per acre. It's not a pretty sight in some areas. It's certainly a below-average year for most of our growers,” says Brown.

Temperatures were near normal across Georgia in August and September, but rainfall either was scattered or below normal for most of the state.

The latest ratings from the agricultural statistics service show that 38 percent of the state's cotton crop is considered in fair condition, 30 percent good and 17 percent in poor condition. Georgia's 2002 acreage is estimated at 1,430,000 acres, down 50,000 acres from last year. Production is estimated at 2,050,000 bales or 8 percent below last year's 2,200,000 bales.

Peanut production in the state is forecast at 1.55 billion pounds or 158 million pounds less than last year. Planted and harvested acres have been adjusted downward from previous estimates, primarily due to dry weather. Planted acres now stand at 520,000 while harvested acres are at 518,000.

Yields across Georgia's peanut belt are expected to average 3,000 pounds per acre compared with 3,330 for 2001. Seventeen percent of the state's crop is rated poor, 38 percent fair and 33 percent good.

Georgia's corn yield is expected to average 130 bushels per harvested acre, the same as earlier estimates and only 4 bushels less than last year's state record. Moderate temperatures, timely rains and irrigation have provided growers with an excellent crop.

Total corn production is expected to total 36.4 million bushels from 280,000 acres harvested for grain. Production of this size would be 23 percent more than last year, reflecting the 27 percent increase in harvested acreage.

Tropical Storm Hanna dumped from 4 to 15 inches of rain over the Panhandle and Big Bend areas of north Florida. Other Peninsula areas received from one to nearly five inches, while a few central to southern Peninsula locales received from two tenths to less than one inch of rain.

Rainfall from Hanna caused some lowland flooding, delaying field work in the Panhandle. “The storm helped some of our dryland growers who were just starting to dig peanuts. The moisture helped to loosen up the soil, which had been very dry prior to the storm,” says David Wright, University of Florida Extension agronomist.

Prior to Hanna, some areas of the Panhandle were more than 10 inches behind in rainfall for the year, says Wright. The rainfall activated residual nitrogen, causing regrowth in cotton, he adds.

“None of our fields were really drowned out by the storm. We're always concerned about boll rot in north Florida due to our proximity to the coast. Some of our cotton was getting ready to open, with a yield potential of two-plus bales per acre under irrigation. After the storm, however, those fields might yield only 400 to 600 pounds per acre due to hard lock,” says Wright.

The latest yield forecast from Florida, which doesn't include the state's cotton crop, predicts peanut production at 266,800,000 pounds, up 12 percent or 27,600,000 pounds from earlier forecasts and up nearly 7 percent or 16,700,000 pounds from the 2001 crop.

Florida's peanut yield is pegged at 2,900 pounds per acre, up 300 pounds or almost 12 percent from earlier estimates. Yields in 2001 averaged 3,050 pounds per acre. Acreage to be harvested remains unchanged from the earlier estimate and is set at 92,000 acres, up 10,000 acres from the 82,000 harvested last year.

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