After months of plenty, and, at times, too much rainfall, dry conditions returned to the lower Southeast just as planting season was getting under way for several crops. However, a band of showers that moved in during the end of April improved soil moisture conditions in many areas.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, abnormally dry conditions had begun to creep back into Alabama, Tennessee and the Carolinas in mid-April, but that improved when several inches of rain fell in the region during the last weekend in the month.

Dry conditions especially improved in north Alabama where locally 3-plus inches of rain fell during the last weekend in April, and conditions were improved slightly in south Alabama.

According to USDA reports, topsoil moisture conditions improved in some areas, with Alabama going from 53 percent of topsoil very short to short in mid-April to 23-percent short in the final weekend of the month. Topsoil moisture conditions also improved in Georgia (29 percent very short to short), and South Carolina (36 percent short to very short).

The heavier rains in late April missed the central Carolinas. Growing precipitation deficits (30 to 90 days), low streamflow and groundwater in some areas, and deteriorating short-term indicators prompted the introduction of an area of abnormally dry conditions across portions of central South Carolina to central and southeastern North Carolina.

USDA reported on April 25 that 25 percent of topsoil moisture in North Carolina was very short to short, but significant progress was made with wheat heading and corn planting. Abnormally dry conditions also were expanded into southwest Alabama, where precipitation was light, long-term deficits significant, and streamflow below normal.

For certain regions of Alabama, the late April rainfall was adequate but it delayed planting in other regions. Franklin County reported much-needed rain and escaped with very little wind damage from the tornadoes that affected some parts of the lower Southeast. Producers in this area were hoping to finish planting corn and to plant more cotton during the last week of April.

Fayette County, Ala., received more than 5 inches of rain, which delayed cotton and soybean planting. Leonard Kuykendall, regional Extension agent for Autauga County in central Alabama, said about 25 percent of their cotton producers began planting. Fertilizer and herbicide applications were being applied to corn, and producers were making preparations for soybean and peanut plantings.

In Georgia, for the week ending April 25, warm and sunny conditions resulted in dry topsoil moisture, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, Georgia Field Office. Soil moisture conditions were rated at 3 percent very short, 26 percent short, 66 percent adequate, and 5 percent surplus. Widespread precipitation fell towards the end of the week, with the rainfall average across the state for the week at about 1.5 inch.

Rain showers have increased soil moisture which will help with planting and emergence. Most of Georgia’s corn crop has been planted and more than three-quarters of the crop has emerged. Other row crop planting is under way. More than half of the winter wheat has headed. Cotton and peanut planting is progressing. More than three-quarters of Georgia’s tobacco crop has been transplanted, and pasture and range conditions have improved. Most planting in the state was at or above the five-year average.

In Florida, rainfall was generally light to moderate in the Panhandle, the northern counties and south Florida. Areas in central Florida received substantial rainfall with Hillsborough, Lake and Orange counties reporting 3 to 5 inches. Eighty-five percent of the state’s soil moisture levels were adequate to surplus.

Dry conditions in the Panhandle and northern counties allowed field preparations to proceed, but peanut and cotton planting was delayed in non-irrigated fields. In Washington County, ryegrass was baled for hay. Potatoes in the Hastings area were progressing well, with some harvesting expected soon.

As for vegetables, cabbage and greens harvest in the Hastings area was near completion, and tomatoes were being staked in Gadsden County. Harvesting of tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs were active in Highlands County. Watermelons were reported as doing very well. In south Florida, vegetable volume was increasing but remained at levels well below normal.

In Collier County, the first watermelons of the season were being harvested during the latter part of April. Snap beans, cabbage, cantaloupe, celery, sweet corn, cucumber, eggplant, endive, escarole, pepper, radish, squash, strawberry and tomatoes were moving through the market.

e-mail: phollis@farmpress.com