If anyone in Alabama appreciates the old adage “everything
in moderation,” it is farmers, whose planting has been delayed by an immoderate
amount of rain recently.
This immoderation is playing out all over the state.
“It’s terrible,” says Brandon Dillard, an Alabama Extension
regional agent in southeast Alabama’s Wiregrass. “Some farmers have managed to get their corn
planting finished, but there is very little cotton or peanuts in the ground.”
“As soon as it gets dry enough to get back into the field,
along comes another rain. Instead of 2 or 3 inches of rain, we’re getting 3, 4
and even 5 inches every 4 or 5 days.”
Planting Decision Changes
Dillard says the heavy rainfall has already forced producers
in some cases to reduce their projected acreage by 10 to 15 percent due to the
inability to plant on rain-drenched soils.
The wet weather has changed planting dynamics too. Some producers who had originally planned on
cotton or peanuts have opted for soybeans instead.
“One producer even has returned his corn seed to his dealer and
is opting for cotton instead,” Dillard says.
In the Black Belt region of west Alabama, farmers operate
according to another old adage: “If the ground is wet in the Black Belt you are
going to get stuck.”
Equipment Mired in Wet Soil
In fact, unplanted cropland is so water-saturated in some
places that the corn stubble from the previous crop has been washed out of
fields, according to Extension Regional Agent Rudy Yates.
Lots of equipment has already been mired in wet soils too. A stretch of sunny days with warm breezes
would go a long way toward improving the situation, he says, though adding that
this doesn’t appear likely over the next few days.
Like Dillard, Yates expects that the planting delays will
lead to more farmers opting to plant soybeans this year.
The situation appears to be especially severe in Alabama’s
Gulf Coastal region, especially in the southernmost reaches of Mobile and
Baldwin counties, according to Regional Extension Agent Kim Wilkins.
Corn plantings are faring a little better in southwest
Alabama, as farmers were able to get seed into the ground sooner than their
counterparts in other regions of the state.
Even so, the recent heavy rains, which reached as high as 15 inches within
the last few days in some places, have put a virtual halt on plantings,
according to Wilkins.
“I’m worried about the planted corn in some places washing away,”
Planted Crop in Jeopardy
It’s not just the delayed planting that worries crop
experts. At Auburn University, Dr. Dale Monks, an Extension crops physiologist and
a professor in the Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences, says
that that the excessive rainfall may also affect some of the crops already in
“The soil can become so saturated with water that the seed
is deprived of oxygen and fails to germinate,” Monks says.
Emerging plants are not immune either, he says.
Within saturated soil, plants are unable to take up water
and nutrients and its growth is hindered and stopped, according to Monks.
“Corn plants, for example, will begin to turn yellow —
sometimes purplish because of the lack of nitrogen and phosphorous,” he says.
Soggy soils also prevent plants from establishing deep root
systems, further undermining their ability to take in nutrients and water late
in the season.
Technology Lending a Helping Hand
There is some good news.
Technological advances in the last few years have enabled some farmers
to work around these challenges, at least to a degree.
Charles Burmester, an Extension agronomist based in the Tennessee
Valley, credits two advances — GPS-guided planters and treated seed — with
enabling farmers to put seed into the ground within narrower planting windows.
“It’s just amazing how quickly they can get across the
fields now,” Burmester says. “Guidance systems allow farmers to operate their
machinery for longer durations and with the treated seed, we don’t have to
bother with granules and sprays or with putting in furrows.”
Underscoring just how efficient these planting regimens have
become, he related the experience of one farmer who managed to plant 600 acres
of corn in a single day.
Minimal and no-tilling planting has offered advantages too
by enabling farmers with heavier equipment to get into the fields sooner and
without running the risk of being mired in soggy soil. Burmester says.
Weather experts say that it is difficult to account for the factors
that have contributed to this unusually wet planting season. However, Florida State Climatologist David
Zierden, says there is a chance that producers could be dealing with similar wet
conditions in the fall.
Conditions in the Pacific Ocean are projected to produce an El
Nino phase in the Southeast during the fall and winter.
If this projection plays out, Zierden says there is a chance
that producers could contend with a set of conditions similar to the last El
Nino phase in 2009, when unusually wet conditions in October played havoc with harvesting.
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