Farmers across the state of Tennessee watched helplessly during August, as already drought-stressed crops endured record heat and dryness. Crops and pastures baked in what the National Weather Service indicated was the hottest, driest August for the state since records began.

As of the first week of September, most of Tennessee was in the extreme to exceptional drought categories. The state’s soybean crop was hit especially hard.

Debra Kenerson, director for the Tennessee Field Office of USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, described the situation as follows:

“On Aug. 1, a little over one month ago, the soybean crop had good potential but the lack of rain and high temperatures lowered yield prospects by 9 bushels.”

The USDA’s September forecast, which is based on farmers’ projections of final yields as of the first of the month, showed the following results: Corn, 100 bushels per acre, down 25 bushels from 2006; cotton, 815 pounds per acre, down 130 pounds from a year earlier; soybeans, 24 bushels per acre, down 15 bushels from the previous year; and burley tobacco, 1,700 pounds per acre, down 500 pounds from last year.

Cotton

Tennessee’s cotton production is forecast at 840,000 bales, down 39 percent from last year’s record level and the lowest since 2002. Cotton yields are expected to average 815 pounds per acre, down 14 percent from a year ago and the lowest since 2003.

Producers expect to harvest 495,000 acres, down 200,000 acres from 2006.

The cotton crop needed just one or two good rains in August to be on track for another excellent year. The lack of rain, coupled with record high temperatures, however, stressed plants and led to abnormally early development.

As of the week ending Sept. 9, the crop was a full three weeks ahead of its usual 5-year development and was rated in mostly fair condition. By late August, defoliation was under way and harvest had begun on a limited basis.

Soybeans

Tennessee’s soybean production is forecast at 25.2 million bushels, down 43 percent from 2006 and the lowest since 1999. Soybean yields are expected to average 24 bushels per acre, down 9 bushels from last month’s projection and 15 bushels from a year ago.

Acreage for harvest is estimated at 1.05 million acres, down 80,000 from a year ago.

As of the week ending Sept. 9, two-thirds of the state’s soybeans were rated in poor to very poor condition, the lowest crop condition rating since records began in 1985. This year’s trouble is similar to the drought in 1999, as the month of August was virtually rain free. Unlike that year, however, the state also experienced one of the hottest months on record.

Through Sept. 9, virtually the entire crop was setting pods, over 60 percent were dropping leaves, and harvest had begun in a few areas.

Corn

Tennessee’s corn production is forecast at 78.0 million bushels, up 25 percent from a year ago. Corn yields are expected to average 100 bushels per acre, up 5 bushels from last month, but 25 bushels below 2006.

Producers expect to harvest 780,000 acres for grain, up 56 percent from last year and the highest since 1985. With the recent dry weather, harvest is in full swing. As of the week ending Sept. 9, nearly three-fourths of the grain crop had been combined, two weeks ahead of the normal pace.