Historic rainfall in parts of the Carolinas has severely hampered cotton and peanut production and has literally dampened the spirits of row crop farmers from the Florida Panhandle to southeast Virginia.
“This is a 100-year rainfall — something we haven’t experienced before, and we are in a real mess,” says cotton and peanut grower Bud Bowers in Luray, S.C.
Just up the road in Cameron, S.C., Monty Rast, who grows and buys both cotton and peanuts, says he recorded more than 55 inches of rain at his farm by mid-July — the average annual rainfall is just over 45 inches.
“We are dealing with a real crop disaster in our area and our best hope is that we can get some kind of regional disaster funding that will be needed to help many of our farmers survive,” Rast says.
Though the South Carolina Low Country appears to be the hardest hit by the unusual rainfall pattern, excessive rain has caused problems for growers like Michael Davis, who farms in Jackson County in the Florida Panhandle to John Crumpler in southeast Virginia.
Davis says his peanut crop is in real danger. “We plant our peanuts on our highest ground, but it’s still flooded out. This isn’t at the level of other places in the country — we’ve seen this kind of flooding before, but it’s bad,” the veteran Florida grower says.
In one 17 day stretch in June and July, Davis says he got 22 inches of rain. “It’s very sporadic in our area — in some cases we might get five inches of rain in half a day and 20 miles down the road, they may only get an inch a half,” Davis says.
He says his real fear for his peanut crop is that the weather will turn hot and humid, creating an ideal environment for diseases.
In many cases, growers have not been able to spray fungicides on a regular schedule because the ground is too saturated with water to support heavy equipment.
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In southeast Virginia, John Crumpler says the peanut crop seems to be holding its own against the wetter than normal weather.
“The peanuts have a fairly good green color, but we are in bad need of heat. Along with more rainfall than usual, we have had too many cloudy, cool days that will really hurt our cotton and peanuts,” he says.
In Virginia, Crumpler says the excessive rainfall has been sporadic — there’s been too much rain pretty much all over the state, but in only a few pockets have had excessive flooding to the level of washing out crops, he says.
In Dinwoodie, Va., more toward the central part of the state, grower Billy Bain says his crops look good. A little too much rain, he notes, but corn looks outstanding and tobacco and peanuts and cotton all look good for this time of year.
Damaged wheat crop
In North Carolina, excessive rainfall has severely damaged one of the largest wheat crops on record, and damage has come throughout the state. Test weights in the mid 40s are common and a good percentage of the crop remained in the field well into July.
“As late as May, this looked to be another bumper crop of wheat,” says Dan Weathington, executive director of the North Carolina Small Grain Growers Association.
“The rain just kept coming in most areas of the state, from the Piedmont to the Coast, and it really cut back both quality and yield of what could have been a really good crop,” he adds.
In South Carolina, Rast says he’s never seen anything close to the amount of rainfall he’s seen this year. “We are growing several large kernel peanut varieties, like Spain, and these need calcium to grow the kernel in the pod,” he says.
First problem is that most growers store their gypsum, which provides the calcium needed for large kernel, Virginia type peanuts in large piles outside with little or no protection from the weather.
Typically a grower takes gypsum from the pile and applies it to his peanut crop.
This year, in a lot of cases the gypsum is under water and at best, water-logged and not usable. “Even if it were available, there would be no way to get into the field to apply it,” Rast adds.
He is applying liquid calcium through his irrigation pivots on some of his peanut land, but as of late July, he couldn’t get his pivots into the field. “We literally had to wait for the ground to dry out enough to use our irrigation pivots to put calcium out on flooded land,” the South Carolina grower adds.
A little farther south from Rast’s farm in Cameron, S.C., Bud Bowers says his cotton crop will likely turn out to be a disaster. “Our best hope is for crop insurance to step up and help us at least be in a position to survive. We will likely have to get out some of our cotton that is already booked, and that’s going to be expensive,” he adds.
“We got all of our cotton planted, but some of it didn’t come up. We tried to get in to spray and fertilize the crop, and we just couldn’t get in the field.
“We tried to apply what we could by air, but the aerial applicators are just inundated and can’t keep up with the demand for spraying, Bowers says.
He says all of his peanuts are planted, but yellow and in many cases not inoculated properly. “There is not much hope we will produce much of a crop this year,” he adds.
No oxygen in soil
“We don’t have any peanuts made or cotton bolls set. Most of our crops are just too water logged and there is no oxygen in the soil for peanuts to use.”
The South Carolina grower says what will come next after all the rain remains to be seen. An all too common site this year has been a new pest in his cotton and peanut fields — alligators. “We see them occasionally, but not in our crops,” Bowers says.
“The last two years we made the best crops we’ve ever made and this year it looks like we will make one of the worst crops we’ve ever made on this farm,” Bowers says.
Rast says he still had about half his wheat crop in the ground in late July, with little hope of getting it harvested. Though cotton and peanuts are the major crops on his farm, the record rainfall has set back all his crops.
“We were late planting corn, which pushed back peanuts and cotton. We grow some blueberries and strawberries and those crops are late, too,” he says.
Rast, who is a peanut buyer, says in the 60-mile radius of Cameron, his buying area, is consistently too wet. Peanuts are grown in South Carolina in a relatively small belt from south to north.
Peanuts grown above the fall line, roughly the northeast half of the state, are in better shape, but still suffer from too much rain.
In his buying area growers cut back peanut acreage by 30 percent because of the ongoing over-supply created by last year’s record peanut yield — more than 4,000 pounds per acre for the first time in history.
As of mid-July, growers in his buying area lost an additional 30 percent of their crop to the record rainfall. How much of the remaining peanut crop will survive, and more importantly, how productive these peanuts will be remains to be seen.
“We know the fungicides we are flying on are not working well. We know most of the fertilizer we put out with our peanuts and cotton has leached away, and we know most of the peanuts won’t have enough calcium to fully mature and much of our cotton crop is not setting bolls,” Rast says.
“Farmers affected by this historic flooding can fly pesticides on, if there is an aerial applicator available. And we can apply some materials via irrigation systems, if it is available.
“All those things are expensive and at some point you have to make a tough decision whether or not to put more money into a crop you know has a poor chance of producing a good yield,” he says.
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