Weather dominated crop news across North Carolina last year and, by and large, its effect was positive, according to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture Agricultural Statistics Division.

North Carolina soybean, corn, cotton and peanut producers all saw yield increases over the previous year's drought. Flue-cured producers saw yield drop due to extreme weather conditions.

The year began with excessive soil moisture levels and delays in spring crop preparations. Growers had a short break in the rain in May 2003 and made substantial progress planting corn, cotton, peanuts and tobacco.

Scattered rains in the summer months caused further delays.

Fast forward into August and September, drier conditions helped harvest progress of corn and tobacco.

Hurricane Isabel brought intense rain and winds to much of North Carolina on Sept. 18, 2003. A cool and dry October helped cotton and soybean harvest and the planting of small grains.

The year went out in December much like it came in: With extremes. The last week of 2003 saw highs of 61 degrees Fahrenheit to 69 degrees Fahrenheit.

North Carolina soybean producers, who planted 1.45 million acres of soybeans in 2003, harvested 42 million bushels of soybeans, 36 percent more than in 2002. The acreage was the largest since 1.475 million acres was planted in 1998. The average yield increased from 24 bushels per acre in 2002 to 30 bushels per acre in 2003.

Corn for grain production in the state was 72.1 million bushels, up 24 percent from 2002. Average yields increased to 106 bushels per acre over the 83-bushel mark in 2002. Harvested acreage was down to 680,000 acres. Acreage harvested for silage slipped to 55,000 acres in 2003 from 70,000 acres in 2002. Silage production totaled 880,000 tons.

North Carolina's cotton growers harvested 150,000 fewer acres in 2003 than they did in 2002. But yields, at 1.1 million bales, that was a 36 percent increase over the previous year. The average yield of 686 pounds was up dramatically from last year's 421 pounds per acre. A total of 810,000 acres of cotton were planted in 2003, with 770,000 harvested. Most of the abandoned acreage was due to heavy rains at planting time.

North Carolina peanut growers rebounded from a disappointing, drought-reduced crop in 2002. Excellent moisture levels during the growing season and what the Ag Statistics Division best described as “excellent Indian Summer weather for harvest” combined to increase yields to 3,200 pounds per acre, 1,100 pounds more than a year ago. Total production was 320 million pounds on 100,000 acres.

For the second consecutive year, extreme weather hurt North Carolina's flue-cured producers. The crop in 2002 was hit with drought, but the crop suffered even more under excessive moisture. Production, at 303 million pounds, is 10 percent below 2002 levels. Yield was down to an average of 1,968 pounds per acre, 121 pounds less than 2002. Farmers planted 154,000 acres, 8,000 acres less than in 2002.

The rains also hurt burley production. Production of burley tobacco in North Carolina was down 19 percent at 7.7 million pounds. Average yields were 1,350 pounds per acre, 150 pounds less than in 2002.

e-mail: cyancy@primediabusiness.com