While rainfall during the last weekend in June brought desperately needed showers to some parts of the lower Southeast, the region's crops still are suffering from hot, dry weather conditions, and much more moisture is needed to insure even a moderately successful growing season.
In Alabama, weather officials consider most of the southern portion of the state to be in a drought, and conditions are abnormally dry in east Alabama all the way north to the Tennessee line. Conditions are better in the northwestern third of the state, but showers have still been sparse.
Dennis Delaney, a small grains specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, describes crop conditions in his state as “pretty rough.”
“We're looking at either extremely low yields or abandonment on most of the corn crop in central and south Alabama. We're finally getting some rain, but it has come too late for some of our corn, with some producers looking at about a 50-percent crop,” said Delaney in late June.
North Alabama received rainfall early in the growing season, but conditions have since turned dry, he says. “Overall, it's not a good year for corn in Alabama. Even growers with irrigation have had trouble keeping up because we've had so many 90-plus degree days with low humidity,” says the agronomist.
Soybean growers also have had problems this year, says Delaney, especially those who planted early maturing varieties. “Early beans were hurt trying to set pods. Some are blooming two to three weeks earlier than we expect. But our later-planted soybeans still show some potential. With rainfall in July and August, those growers still might make a good crop,” he says.
Dry weather conditions have been good for restricting the spread of Asian soybean rust, he says. “It has been too dry for the disease to move from kudzu to soybeans. We have 20 sentinel plots in the state, and we'll be checking them at least daily through the end of the season,” says Delaney.
In Florida, a low-pressure system in the Atlantic moved over the central Peninsula at the end of the week of June 19-25 and brought welcomed rains to most areas. However, the scattered nature of the rainfall left some localities dry. Rainfall for the week ranged from less than a tenth of an inch in Frostproof, Marianna, Monticello, Pensacola and Tallahassee to more than 3.75 inches in Apopka.
Many northern Peninsula and Panhandle areas remained mostly dry.
Continued drought in the Panhandle is affecting the growth of most crops, with the corn crop in Santa Rosa County reportedly stunted. Tobacco pulling is getting under way in the northern Peninsula while more rain is desperately needed to guarantee adequate peanut yields. Peanut conditions were rated 48 percent poor, 33 percent fair, 14 percent good and 5 percent excellent.
In Georgia, the cotton crop is variable, depending on moisture conditions in the specific region, says Steve M. Brown, University of Georgia Extension cotton specialist. “Some areas have received good showers, and the crop has really perked up,” said Brown in late June. “But we still have very little subsoil moisture, and we can't make a cotton crop entirely on irrigation. Moisture continues to be our biggest factor. A lot of our cotton is blooming — it's a very mixed bag.”
A significant amount of Georgia's estimated 1.4-million acre cotton crop was replanted this year due to hot, dry weather conditions, he says. “We've had more replanting than we've seen in many years, between 5 and 10 percent but probably closer to 5 percent,” says Brown.
The state continues to suffer from agricultural drought, with only southeast Georgia experiencing near normal conditions, according to the Georgia Agricultural Statistics Service. The last weekend in June brought scattered showers, and although some locations reported more than 3 inches of rainfall, more is desperately needed.
Georgia crop conditions continued to decline rapidly, with dryland corn being especially critical in central Georgia. County Extension agents reported cutworms in peanuts and plant bugs in cotton.
Moderate agricultural drought now covers most of the state as mild agricultural drought spreads into all of north Georgia, says David Emory Stooksbury, state climatologist. Only southeast Georgia had near-normal soil moisture conditions for mid-to-late June.
Mild to moderate agricultural drought generally exists north and west of a line from Brooks to Coffee to Toombs to Lincoln counties. Moderate agricultural drought exists north and west of a line from Thomas to Crisp to Toombs to Washington to Elbert counties and south of a line from Floyd to Lumpkin to Stephens counties.
In the mild agricultural drought regions, soil moisture loss over the past 30 days has been between 4 and 5 inches,” said Stooksbury in late June. “In the moderate agricultural drought regions, 30-day soil moisture loss has been between 5 and 7 inches.”
Heavy water use
Continued high water use by plants, high evaporation rates, and little rain has caused soils to dry very quickly across the state, he adds. In regions not getting rain, soil moisture loss has been between 1.3 and 1.5 inches.
“While tropical storm Alberto brought beneficial rains to extreme south central, southeast and coastal Georgia, most of the remainder of the state had little if any rainfall during that period,” he says.
U.S. Geological Survey stream gauges were showing low flows across the entire state in late June. Many streams were near the 10th percentile for the date. At the 10th percentile, the stream flow should be greater than the current value in 90 years out of 100 for the current date, says Stooksbury.
Low groundwater levels
Groundwater levels also were below normal statewide and were dropping.
“Water releases combined with below-normal inflows have led the state's major reservoirs to drop below normal summer pool,” he says. “Farm ponds are showing the impacts of the dry, hot weather.”
The normal recharge season for streams, groundwater and reservoirs is over, says Stooksbury. Stream, groundwater and reservoir levels are expected to keep dropping through the summer and into fall if the state continues to have dry to normal weather.
“The most likely source of widespread drought relief this summer and fall will come from the tropics. If Georgia doesn't have any more tropical activity this summer, then the summer will probably be hot and dry,” he says.
Comprehensive drought information, including current statewide outdoor watering use schedules, may be found at www.georgiadrought.org. Real-time weather and climate conditions, including soil moisture balance, may be found at www.georgiaweather.net.