The first forecasts of 2004 for row crops in the lower Southeast indicate that yields will be down slightly from last year's record or near-record yields. Most crops, however, still are rated in the good to excellent range in Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

Production in Georgia is down for all crops except for soybeans from a year ago, according to the state's agricultural statistics service.

Temperatures during the growing season have averaged near normal. But most areas of Georgia have experienced rainfall well below normal. June and the early part of July were the exceptions when above-normal rains occurred. Conditions became drier toward the end of July.

Georgia's corn yield for 2004 is expected to average 125 bushels per harvested acre, just 4 bushels less than last year's yield of 129 bushels per acre. If this yield is realized, it will be the third highest on record.

Near-normal summertime temperatures and the June rains have provided a good crop. Georgia's total corn production is expected to total 35 million bushels from 280,000 acres harvested for grain. A production of this size would be 5 percent less than last year. Dry weather in the spring delayed planting. As of Aug. 8, 10 percent of the crop had been harvested compared with the five-year average of 17 percent.

Georgia's 2004 cotton crop is forecast to average 738 pounds of lint per harvested acre, only 47 pounds per acre less than in 2003. Cotton has benefited from the mid-summer rains, but rainfall was needed toward the end of July.

As of Aug. 8, only 15 percent of the state's cotton crop was rated very poor or poor while 32 percent was fair and 53 percent was rated good to excellent. Acreage expected to be harvested this fall is estimated at 1,300,000 acres, up 10,000 acres from last year. Production is estimated at 2 million bales, 5 percent less than last year's 2,110,000 bales.

Peanut production in Georgia is forecast at 1.90 billion pounds compared with last year's 1.86 billion pounds. Harvested acres are expected to be 575,000 compared with 540,000 in 2003.

Yields across Georgia's peanut belt are expected to average 3,300 pounds per acre compared with 3,450 pounds last year. The crop has also benefited from good mid-summer weather conditions. As of Aug. 8, the crop was rated 11 percent excellent, 45 percent good, 34 percent fair, and only 10 percent poor to very poor.

Soybean yields in Georgia are forecast at 29 bushels per harvested acre. If this yield is realized, it will be the third highest on record and tying the yield of 1992. The crop has benefited from the June and early July rainfall.

Soybean production is forecast at 6.96 million bushels, up significantly from the 5.94 million bushels last year. Planted acres are set at 250,000 acres while harvested acres are estimated to be 240,000 acres. This compares to 190,000 acres planted and 180,000 acres harvested in 2003. Final soybean yield and production will depend heavily on September weather conditions.

Tobacco yields for 2004 are expected to average 2,000 pounds per acre or 240 pounds less than last year's yield of 2,240 pounds per acre. This year's crop, which has been fair, has been plagued with disease problems that did not occur last year. At the end of July, the crop was rated 6 percent very poor, 19 percent poor, 43 percent fair, 30 percent good and 2 percent excellent.

Tobacco acreage harvested is expected to be 24,000 acres or 3,000 acres below last year. This puts potential production at 48 million pounds for the year 2004 — 19 percent less than 2003.

In Florida, frequent but scattered rains during July kept soil moisture supplies adequate to surplus in most areas while still allowing farmers to harvest tobacco and cut hay.

Cotton production in the Florida Panhandle is expected to total 128,000 bales or 9 percent higher than the 117,000 bales harvested last year. Yield per acre is set at 597 pounds, down 13 pounds from the 610 pounds per acre for the 2003 crop. Acreage to be picked is estimated at 103,000 acres, up 11,000 acres or 12 percent from a year ago.

Harvested peanut acreage is forecast at 120,000 acres, up 5,000 acres or 4 percent from last year. Yield is expected to average 3,100 pounds per acre, up 100 pounds or 3 percent from the 2003 crop yield. Production is set at 372 million pounds, up 8 percent from the 345 million pounds produced last year.

Florida tobacco growers expect to produce 10,600,000 pounds, down 400,000 pounds from 2003. Acreage is set at 4,000 acres, down 400 acres from the 4,400 acres harvested in 2003. Yield is expected to average 2,650 pounds per acre, up 150 pounds from the 2,500 pounds per acre produced last year.

Alabama farmers are looking at near-record yield for major row crops and hay. Mostly adequate soil moisture along with near-normal temperatures have provided good to excellent conditions throughout the growing season for crops over most of the state.

About 83 percent of Alabama's corn crop was rated in good to excellent condition in August. Corn yield is expected to be 120 bushels per acre or 2 bushels lower than last year.

Cotton yields are predicted to be about 749 pounds per acre.

Peanut yields in Alabama are forecast at the highest since 1984, reaching 2,900 pounds per acre.

Eighty-six percent of the state's soybean crop was rated in good to excellent condition. Yield per acre is set at 33 bushels, which is 7 bushels higher than the 10-year average but 3 bushels lower than the state's record.

e-mail: phollis@primediabusiness.com