Skippy, uneven, unlevel, jagged, non-uniform, irregular — farmers in the lower Southeast are running out of words to describe a crop that is anything but pretty this year due to an extremely dry May and sporadic showers ever since.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor’s mid-July report, conditions were improving in places, with scattered showers and  thunderstorms pelting the Southeast, and substantial showers falling on parts of the Carolinas, southern Georgia, most of Florida, and on portions of southeastern Louisiana and southern sections of Mississippi and Alabama.

In contrast, dry and warm weather aggravated drought conditions in the lower Mississippi Valley including northern Louisiana, southern Arkansas and western Mississippi.

In North Carolina, 2 to 4 inches of rain improved conditions in some locations. In Dare County, 3 to 5 inches of rain were reported. Additional rains will be needed, however, to further improve drought as any future prolonged periods of summer dryness and warmth could quickly deteriorate conditions, states the U.S. Drought Monitor.

In South Carolina, heavy rains of 2 to 4 inches in the west and east-central improved drought conditions, but elsewhere the rains were too scattered in nature for improvement.

In Georgia, drought relief was limited to the extreme southern portions of the state where 2.5 to 3.5 inches fell. 

In Florida, widespread, heavy summer rains brought large improvements to the state, especially in the southern half. In Florida’s Big Bend, east-central, and south, widespread 10-plus inches of rain have greatly eased drought conditions, including river flows.

Farther west, some slight improvements were made in southern Alabama and Mississippi where more than 2 inches of rain fell, and in north-central Alabama where drought conditions were alleviated. Recent rains have eased or erased short-term deficits from northern Alabama to northern North Carolina.

In Georgia, many peanut producers are eyeing a late crop, says John Beasley, University of Georgia Extension peanut agronomist.

“We have some difficult situations out there due to drought stress,” said Beasley in mid-July. “Growers may have planted back in May, but if the plants emerged in late June or early July, we can’t start thinking about the maturity range in those peanuts until they really start pegging or blooming.”

Must stretch water supplies

If you’ve got irrigation water, particularly if you’ve got a limited water supply, you must be very judicious in how you apply that water, he says.

“We want to wait until the peanuts start pegging well,” says Beasley. “If we start putting on too much water on the vegetative stage and don’t hold off until fruiting is occurring, then we’ve got problems, and we’re going to run out of water. Peanuts need water critically during the heavy pegging, early podleaf stage.”

When the peg of the peanut plant starts swelling, he says, it needs a minimum of 1.5 inch of water and a maximum of 2 inches. “Make sure you’re saving water for that time frame,” says Beasley.

According to the Georgia Agricultural Statistics Service, mid-July topsoil moisture for the state stood at 18 percent very short, 43 percent short, 38 percent adequate and only 1 percent surplus. Subsoil moisture was 24 percent very short, 44 percent short, 32 percent adequate and none of the state’s subsoil was rated as surplus.

County Extension agents in Georgia were reporting that scattered showers were enough to finally get most crops up to a stand, but that dryland cotton and peanuts were suffering from continued drought and sweltering temperatures.

Thirty-four percent of the state’s corn was rated in very poor to poor condition in mid-July and 42 percent of the cotton was very poor to poor, as was about 30 percent of the peanut crop.

In June, temperatures across Georgia were above normal for the fifth straight month.

In Alabama, crop conditions were showing improvement by the middle part of July as some areas were receiving regular afternoon showers.

Thirty-three percent of the state’s corn crop was rated very poor to poor, 35 percent of the cotton was in the very poor to poor category, and 34 percent of Alabama’s cotton was in very poor to poor condition. Soybeans were faring better, with 79 percent of the crop rated at fair to good.

Fifty-two percent of Alabama’s topsoil moisture was rated as very short to short in mid-July, while 48 percent was rated as adequate.

In north Alabama’s Tennessee Valley, Auburn University Extension agronomist Charlie Burmester said regular scattered showers in the afternoon had the cotton crop in his region looking “pretty good.”

“We’ve had problems with early plant bugs, and we lost some lower squares, so a lot of our cotton is fruiting higher than normal. We’ve got a big plant, but there’s not much lower fruit,” he said in mid-July.

Cotton maturity is later than normal, says Burmester, due to heavy rainfall and tornadoes during early spring.

“We seem to be getting our plant bugs under control. We’re starting to put out our PGR, and more will go out once these showers pass through. This crop will probably push into late September as far as maturity goes. We have some nice plants and some cotton is blooming well, so we have the potential for a pretty good crop,” he says.

So far, cotton producers have done a good job of using residual herbicides for controlling gylphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth pigweed, says Burmester. “The main thing is to keep at it and don’t let it go to seed. I expect we’ll be doing quite a bit of hand pulling before it’s over,” he says.

phollis@farmpress.com