David Derrick knew something was different about the spring weather when heads began emerging on northeast Alabama wheat before growers could get around to spraying the crop with fungicides to safeguard against foliar diseases.

What should feel like a cool spring already feels like summer to Derrick, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System regional agent who specializes in row crops in the Sand Mountain region of northeast Alabama.

Agents and producers alike couldn’t be any more pleased.  

Derrick’s colleague, Charles Burmester, an Extension agronomist in the neighboring Tennessee Valley, shares his optimism.

“Temperature has been way above normal, and this has helped things out,” Burmester says. “We have enough moisture in the ground to get up seed.”

As in the Sand Mountain region, wheat is maturing faster than expected. Among the few problems that have arisen are root rot issues, primarily within wheat that has been planted behind previous wheat crops — a practice Burmester has repeatedly warned producers to avoid.

“Otherwise, it’s been smooth sailing,” he says.

Producers in the Gulf Coastal region are dealing with similar ideal conditions.

Rainfall plentiful

“There has been plenty of rainfall and fields were pretty wet last week,” says Extension Regional Agent Christy Hicks, who adds that she noticed at least one stuck tractor within the last few days.

“Right now, there is nothing out of the ordinary, and everyone is pretty much on target.

 “I’m just hoping we’re assured the same crop conditions that prevailed last year.”

Yet as any farmer or Extension agent would readily attest, temperature patterns are notoriously difficult to predict. Burmester hopes the La Niña-like effects that prevailed last year and that secured excellent growing conditions throughout much of the state will carry over into the summer.

“It’s just hard to predict these things,” he says.  “We had some of the coldest temperatures on record last year, though this year is turning out to be some of the warmest.”

If there is one thing producers can count on, it is that weather does change, says Burmester, who adds that he just feels fortunate for how well weather has cooperated until now.

Cotton, once king in the Tennessee Valley, may face another year of sagging fortunes.

While cotton planting in the Valley has not begun for the most part, Burmester says seed costs may drive many producers away from cotton to more lucrative crops, especially corn.

“Under the circumstances, having these good crop conditions provides more incentive to plant more corn,” he says.

Burmester speculates that cotton plantings may be down by 15 percent this year. In fact, one local cotton gin operator told him recently that acreage may be down as much as 25 percent in his area of the Valley.

Burmester confesses that the spike in corn plantings causes him some concern.

“It’s a big change,” he says. “The biggest worry I have is that we’ve planted the corn in a narrow window.

“If the rains hit right, we’re in good shape, but if they don’t, we may be in for some problems.”

Burmester calls those crops planted in narrow windows “hit or miss” crops — the reason why he’s hoping for a repeat of last year’s favorable crop conditions.