A westward shift in the projected track of Tropical Storm Nate is putting Alabama producers—and their fall crops—in the line of fire.
Producers in south Alabama are putting noses to the grindstone and harvesting peanuts and sweet potatoes into the night, while farmers in central Alabama focus on peanuts and recently defoliated cotton.
Alabama Extension regional crops agent Kimberly Wilkins said producers are running equipment as hard and as long as they can in preparation for the anticipated wind and rain over the coming weekend. She said peanuts and sweet potatoes are the biggest concern right now.
“Most producers are digging peanuts right now. A lot of our cotton is behind as a result of rain and cloudiness in the spring,” Wilkins said. “They have been waiting as long as possible to defoliate trying to give the cotton time to open a few more bolls. If it is defoliated, they will pick. If not, they will hold on and hope the storm does not pick it for them.”
Charles Simon, Covington County Extension coordinator, said farmers in his area have been cutting and baling hay. He said those with peanuts plan not to dig more until forecasters confirm Nate’s path.
After Irma, mangled cotton plants have made harvest difficult. Pickers outfitted with GPS technology help farmers efficiently pick lodged cotton. Lodging occurs when strong winds tangle the cotton plants together.
Alabama Extension regional crops agent Brandon Dillard also said producers in Geneva County plan to run harvest equipment through the night depending on dew levels. Dillard said it is windy and producers are hoping for dry nights to continue harvesting until Nate makes landfall.
Extension crops specialist Kris Balkcom said producers are concerned for the later peanuts that are still a month from digging. Balkcom is working to help them determine which fungicide to spray and when.
"The problem is they can't get good coverage with the wind blowing as much as it has the past few days," Balkcom said. "Ideally it would be best to spray before the storm. However, peanut farmers may have to change products and spray after the storm."
Cotton, Peanuts a Concern in Central Alabama
Central Alabama’s farmers are also harvesting peanuts and cotton. Much of the cotton is behind as a result of rainy, wet conditions throughout the growing season. Some cotton producers in Lee County are harvesting. While some fields have been defoliated, producers are deciding whether to defoliate as they track Tropical Storm Nate.
Like with Hurricane Irma, tropical storm force winds have the potential to lodge cotton plants and make defoliation difficult. In fields where defoliation has already taken place, farmers will be concerned about quality and grade dockage. Heavy rain and strong winds have the potential to pull cotton fibers from the boll, in addition to rain damage.
Autauga County row crop producer Levi Gaines is in the combine harvesting peanuts.
“We always work to harvest in a timely manner, but adding a tropical storm to the equation certainly adds a sense of urgency,” Gaines said. “We want to finish before the wind and rain move in this weekend.”
North Alabama Farmers Brace for Nate's Impact
A smattering of producers are harvesting cotton in north Alabama, but the majority of cotton in the field has either been defoliated or will be soon.
Alabama Extension crops specialist Tyler Sandlin said producers are preparing for the worst case scenario, but hoping for minimal impacts.
"I am most concerned for those who have defoliated in the last seven to 10 days," Sandlin said. "This cotton will be most susceptible to wind and rain damage. Most defoliation applications were made this week, with one-half to one-third of the crop left to go. Remaining applications will be made after the storm passes."
Sandlin said soybean producers with early and full season beans are also working overtime to harvest ahead of Nate. He said while a nice rain would be welcome in pastures and some other areas, the wind a tropical storm potentially brings is not ideal for cotton or soybean harvest.