Warm, windy conditions during the past week had soil moisture levels on the decline, and left some producers uncertain about plans for planting this year’s crops, according to the Alabama USDA/NASS field office reporting on conditions as of April 27.

Drought-free conditions were reported in 12 percent of the state, a drop of nearly 8 percent from the previous week, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor released for April 22, 2008. Temperatures across the state were as many as 7 degrees above normal for this time of year. Daytime highs ranged from 80 degrees in Sand Mountain to 90 degrees in Geneva.

Overnight lows varied from 40 degrees in Hamilton to 56 degrees in Dothan. Rainfall totals varied across much of the state. Areas in north-central Alabama received over an inch of moisture, while many south-central and southern regions remained dry. Year-to-date precipitation totals ranged from 3.02 inches above normal in Mobile to 9.56 inches below normal in Gadsden.

The winter wheat crop remained in good to excellent condition during the past week. Alex Brand, county executive director in the Wilcox County FSA office, said that wheat in the area looked good, but only time will tell the story of this year’s production. Disease pressure in the wheat crop was light to moderate.

Doyle Barnes, county executive director in the Covington County FSA office, mentioned that many fields were showing signs of crop maturity as the plants began to dry down.

Warm, sunny conditions boosted crop emergence in corn fields across the state, and had most of the crop in good to excellent condition. Producers spent time making fertilizer and herbicide applications to their fields.

Cotton planting progressed 14 percent during the past week. However, growers in some areas of the state were hesitant to plant any seeds because of certain weather conditions. Leonard Kuykendall, Regional Extension Agent located in Autauga County, reported that rainfall over the weekend was light, and a lack of good soil moisture may limit planting in the upcoming weeks.

Olin F. Farrior, county Extension coordinator in Escambia County, added that soil moisture in some areas was short, and producers decided to wait for rain to soak the beds before they planted. Other growers had enough moisture, and were busy knocking beds and seeding cotton.

Overall, Alabama’s peach crop was growing well with good soil moisture, and warm days. Bruce West, county executive director in the Mobile County FSA office, mentioned that producers saw some slight frost damage in their peach orchards from the cool temperatures the previous week.

Bobby Boozer, research horticulturist at the Chilton Research and Extension Center, indicated that plum curculio pressure in some orchards prompted producers to apply insecticides using calendar-based control programs. Growers that utilize targeted spray programs were also advised to spray during the past week. Feeding scars were found in some commercial orchards, but no larvae were seen. Fruit thinning moved along. Growers with early varieties were wrapping up the process, while producers with mid- and late-season varieties were thinning fruit at a full swing pace.

Strawberry harvest was well under way in the northern and central areas of the state. Fruit quality was good. Insect pressure from two-spotted spider mites was light and limited to certain locations in the state.

The majority of Alabama’s pastures were in good to excellent condition. The first cutting of hay was seen in a few counties during the past week. Olin Farrior noted that producers in Escambia County harvested some oat and ryegrass hay under ideal weather conditions. Doyle Barnes stated that producers in the Covington County area were beginning to harvest their first cutting of hay, which was mostly a cleanup of winter ryegrass and other annuals.

Most livestock remained in good condition. Pasture grazing accounted for most of the feedstuff that maintained their condition, as hay and roughage supplies from last year dwindled.