Dry weather conditions and unusually high temperatures began to take hold in parts of the lower Southeast in mid-August, especially in southeast Alabama, where the state’s cotton crop was stressing.

Heat and drought have been devastating to a high percentage of Alabama’s cotton crop, according to Ron Smith, Auburn University Extension entomologist. “Fields that had good moisture up until July 23 were shedding everything from stress by July 30. In my opinion, this stress has cut about four weeks off our cotton production season. Within a few more days the only fruit remaining on the plants will be bolls that are more than 20 days old,” he said in August.

Plant bugs, bollworms and budworms are likely a thing of the past for the 2010 cotton season, he said. “Even stink bugs will shortly find the remaining fruit is too hard to penetrate internally. Growers may wish to watch the swag or greener areas of their fields. Insects may congregate in the lush areas for a while longer. We have plenty of time to recover and set more fruit, but scattered thunderstorms will not provide the moisture to turn the cotton around,” he said.

By mid-August, topsoil moisture was rated very short to short in more than 70 percent of Alabama fields and no fields were showing a surplus of moisture.

Alabama’s National Agricultural Statistics Service says that a general lack of rainfall throughout most of the state has been accompanied by temperatures at or above 100 degrees F., and average stream flows have dropped below the 10th and 25th percentile range. Abnormally dry and moderately dry conditions have expanded from the central-eastern region to the southern area of the state. Daytime high temperatures ranged from 97 to 104 degrees F.

William Birdsong, regional Extension agent in southeast Alabama, reported that some areas have received good rains, but other areas equal a total crop disaster. “Some cotton was opening up and the stalk height was just over knee high. Stink bug sprays were applied two to three times where there is some yield potential. The same story goes for peanuts, although not as much damage has occurred. Peanut progression was behind cotton only because the cotton was planted two to four weeks earlier,” he says.

In north Alabama’s Tennessee Valley, corn was beginning to be harvested in mid-August, and in the northwest part of the state, soybeans were dying due to extreme heat and lack of rainfall.

In Georgia, some areas were receiving scattered showers, but 63 percent of the state’s topsoil moisture was still rated at very short to short. High temperatures were beginning to stress some crops, especially cotton and peanuts.

By mid-August, almost all of Georgia’s corn crop was in the dent stage, over half was mature, and several fields had been harvested. Over three-quarters of the soybean crop had bloomed and nearly one-half was setting pods.  Several fields of sorghum had been harvested.

In north Florida, field crops improved in areas that received rainfall, but most areas were in serious need of a soaking rain. In non-irrigated fields and locations that missed beneficial rains, crops suffered due to extreme heat and low soil moisture. Peanut condition at the mid-point of August was rated 11 percent poor, 9 percent fair, 61 percent good and 19 percent excellent. Peanuts were 92 percent pegged compared with 84 percent last year, and the five-year average of 93 percent. Some early planted peanuts were dug in Levy County. Corn harvest was under way in many areas. Some growers waited for the dry-down before combining.

Soybean growers reported significant deer damage.

Cotton was stressed in areas of low soil moisture. White mold was problematic in areas that received several showers and producers treated fields to control the mold.

The U.S. Drought Monitor, in its Aug. 12 report, stated that abnormally dry and moderate drought conditions had been extended into the southern portion of the state, bringing dry conditions all the way to the southern coastline.

In Georgia, moderate drought conditions in the western portion of the state were extended. In addition, abnormally dry conditions and moderate drought spread across the southern part of the state and into north Florida. Other dry areas were noted in southeast Georgia and along the Atlantic Coast in Florida.

e-mail: phollis@farmpress.com