In all the years I’ve been following crops in south Alabama, it’s mostly been dry in the spring, often to the point that I’ve occasionally wondered why anybody would farm down there, specifically in some of those counties north of the Florida panhandle.
People spend weeks hunting for moisture and planting peanuts deep to find whatever might be down there.
This year, however, is shaping up as an altogether different story. Generous amounts of rain fell in the late winter, with intermittent rains since then. The moisture is there.
In parts of the southeast Alabama, this was the wettest February on record, according to William Birdsong, Extension Agronomist-Row Crops based at the Wiregrass Research and Extension Center at Headland.
“Headland finished February with 21-plus inches, while Geneva recorded about 24 inches,” Birdsong said this week. “My family gave me an automated weather station for Christmas, so at Hartford I can tell you for a fact that we got 27.8 inches in February and 39.47 inches so far for the year.
“We’re just barely in May and already have had a substantial portion of our annual rainfall.”
Amounts in some instances doubled the totals of February records that date back 40 and 50 years.
“Having moisture here in the spring is actually something of a luxury,” he noted. “We’ve had to struggle for the last 5 to 8 years to have enough moisture to plant.”
One of the challenges with all the rain, Birdsong added, was compensating for nitrogen loss in wheat, plus the accompanying diseases.
“Some farmers accepted the challenge and compensated for leaching with all the rain, to the point that they flew on nitrogen,” he said. “They also stayed on top of fungicides. We had a lot of powdery mildew with all the rain. But growers who aimed for strong production actually have one of the better looking wheat crops we’ve seen around here.”
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Owen Taylor is senior editor and publisher at AgFax Media LLC. He writes a number of crop and pest advisories during the regular cropping season, covering crops as diverse as almonds, cotton, rice, grains and peanuts in 14 Sunbelt states (subscribe to his crop advisories here). A native of Rosedale, Mississippi, he grew up in his parents' aerial application service. His career includes stints as a political writer, magazine editor and long-time freelance writer. His work has appeared in most of the major U.S. farm publications.