“It could have been worse” may well be the mantra of farmers in the lower Southeast for 2004, as most areas reported fair to good yields despite a succession of tropical storms in August and September. Alabama growers are even expecting record-high yields for their corn and soybean crops.

With more than half of Alabama’s 2004 cotton crop harvested, producers were expecting production of 810,000 bales with a yield of 727 pounds of lint per acre harvested from 535,000 acres. Cotton yields in the state are better than initially expected in southwest Alabama, where damage occurred from tropical storms. The state’s 10-year average cotton yield is 607 pounds per acre.

Alabama’s corn harvest was winding down in mid-November, with prospects for a record-yielding crop of 123 bushels per acre. This compares with the previous record of 122 bushels per acre from the 2003 crop and the 10-year average yield of 88 bushels. Production harvested from 210,000 acres is expected to total 25.8 million bushels.

Alabama soybean producers also are expecting a record yield, pegged at 37 bushels per acre or one bushel more than last year. Production is forecast at 7.2 million bushels from 195,000 acre.

Alabama’s peanut crop is expected to yield 2,800 pounds per acre in 2004, up 100 pounds from earlier forecasts but still below the record yield of 2,960 pounds set in 1984. Area for harvest this year is expected to total 195,000 acres with production of 546 million pounds. Rain, fog and cooler temperatures have prolonged the harvest season for peanuts and other crops.

Georgia farmers saw below-normal rainfall and above- to near-normal temperatures during the fall, providing excellent harvest conditions.

Georgia's cotton production for 2004 is expected to total 1.8 million bales. This is 50,000 bales above earlier projections but 310,000 bales below the 2003 production. Harvesting conditions have been good during the fall except for a few short delays due to showers. Acreage for harvest, at 1,260,000 acres, remains unchanged from earlier estimates. This yield calculates to 686 pounds per harvested acre. By the end of the first week of November, about seventy percent of the crop had been harvested.

Peanut production for Georgia is forecast at 1.83 billion pounds, the same as earlier forecasts but 2 percent less than in 2003. Yield per harvested acre is forecast at 3,000 pounds or 450 pounds less than last year.

Peanut disease problems became more severe during the latter part of the season due to excessive rainfall brought on by tropical storms. By the end of October, the majority of the crop had been harvested and overall harvesting conditions were good.

Georgia’s corn yield for 2004 is expected to average 130 bushels per harvested acre, putting this year’s crop at one bushel per acre more than in 2003. If this yield is realized, it will be the second highest on record, behind the 134 bushels per acre set in 2001.

June rains and irrigation provided growers with an excellent crop. Corn production is expected to total 36.4 million bushels from 280,000 acres harvested for grain. Production of this size would be 1 percent less than last year. Harvest was virtually complete by the end of October.

Soybean production is expected to total 7.80 million bushels in Georgia for 2004. This is 31 percent more than in 2003. Acreage expected for harvest is at 260,000 acres or 80,000 acres more than in 2003.

Soybean yields are expected to average 30 bushels per acre or three bushels per acre less than last year's record yield of 33 bushels per acre. By the end of the first week of November, about 40 percent of the crop had been harvested.

In Florida, tropical systems continued to damage field crops throughout September but drier conditions had prevailed by early October.

At about mid-September, Hurricane Ivan spun off tornadoes in the Panhandle, dumping torrential rainfall. Some outer bands of rain from Ivan fell in scattered areas of the Peninsula. Intense winds tossed crops, and heavy rains flooded fields in areas affected by the storm.

Some fields were saturated with water from Hurricane Frances which swept through the state one week prior to the arrival of Ivan. The continuous precipitation caused soggy soils which prevented producers from putting heavy equipment in the fields. Therefore, peanut digging slowed in the Panhandle.

The storm also delayed hay making and corn harvesting. Jefferson County lost a large amount of the remaining pecan crop with broken limbs and uprooted trees.

Most topsoil and subsoil moisture supplies were rated at surplus in the Panhandle and adequate to surplus over the Peninsula. Remnants of Hurricane Ivan crossed over the southern Peninsula after mid-September, and Hurricane Jeanne entered the east coast of Florida on Sept. 26.

Drier weather in the Panhandle aided the recovery of cotton losses from Hurricane Ivan. However, in other areas, muddy fields slowed cotton defoliation. Producers were able to dig peanuts during the drier weather with harvest nearly one-third done by late September. Some soybeans were lost in the Panhandle and northern Peninsula. Drier conditions over most of the Peninsula and Panhandle allowed field work to progress rapidly in early October with only minimal scattered showers in some areas.

Growers were able to speed up peanut digging after the storms had passed. Hay quality diminished while producers continued to bale as fields dried out. and some corn acreage was lost in Washington County.

Peanut production in Florida for 2004 is expected to total 299,000,000 pounds versus 345,000,000 pounds in 2003. Harvested acreage is projected at 130,000 acres, 13 percent above the previous year.

The current yield is 2,300 pounds per acre opposed to 3,100 pounds per acre in August and 3,000 pounds last year.

Florida’s 2004 tobacco yield averaged 2,500 pounds per acre, the same as the 2003 yield. Production is set at 10,000,000 pounds compared with 11,000,000 pounds produced last year. Growers harvested 4,000 acres, down 400 acres from the 4,400 acres pulled in 2003.

Expected pecan production for all varieties in 2004 is set at 500,000 pounds, down 1,600,000 pounds from the 2,100,000 pounds produced last year. Production of improved varieties is estimated at 200,000 pounds which declined by 300,000 pounds from 2003. Production of native and seedling varieties is forecast at 300,000 pounds, down by 1,300,000 pounds from last year's 1,600,000 pounds.

e-mail: phollis@primediabusiness.com