In terms of crops, the Tennessee Valley farm landscape is highly diverse, with more corn, soybeans and wheat visible than ever before.
But while these crops differ in many ways, their agronomic and economic destinies are critically tied to one factor — rainfall.
And in this respect, things haven’t changed, says Charles Burmester, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System agronomist. Whether they’re farming cotton, corn or soybeans, Valley growers are dealing with a typical north Alabama summer, “living and dying by summer showers,” he says.
So far, though, Burmester is optimistic. There are bright — better yet, green — spots visible on what was largely a drought-ravaged landscape last year.
Among many growers, wheat turned out to be an especially welcome surprise from previous years.
“Our wheat crop was excellent — I don’t know if we’ve ever had a wheat crop this good,” said Burmester, who spoke to growers at the Precision Agriculture and Field Crops Day, held at Isbell Farms in Cherokee.
“I think it’s going to help our farmers out a lot.”
In many fields, soybeans are growing up in the wheat stubble of the previous winter’s crop — a reflection of how eager many farmers are to capitalize on what are now two highly lucrative crops.
Equally encouraging, the corn crop appears to be as much as two weeks ahead of schedule, according to Burmester.
Cotton acreage, down significantly from previous years, while slightly behind schedule, is nonetheless faring well, he says.
“It’s doing what it’s supposed to do and hopefully we can make a much better crop than we did last year,” Burmester says.
The same prognosis applies to soybeans, though, much like corn and cotton, the crop’s fortunes are closely tied to moisture available within the next few weeks, he says.
In fact, the critical need for moisture over the next few weeks is a factor Burmester stressed time and again in his remarks.
“It all depends on whether we can keep the rain,” he says, adding that it’s hard marking general comments about the crop situation across the Valley without knowledge of whether there will be enough moisture throughout the season.
And while many growers across the Valley have fared well, others are waiting apprehensively for rain.
“The rains are scattered,” Burmester says. “In one spot, everything looks green and lush, but you go three miles up the road, and they haven’t seen rain in two weeks.”
He says the most rain-deprived region is the eastern Tennessee Valley, especially around Centre in Cherokee County.
“They’re probably in the worst drought situation than any other part of the valley,” Burmester says.
For now though, he’s still expressing optimism, even as he describes this summer as a typical growing season for producers — typical because so much depends on rainfall levels during the next few weeks.