Alabama peanut producers could harvest their best crop since 1985, if the rain will hold off long enough for them to get into their fields.Houston County farmer George Jeffcoat, who serves on the Alabama Farmers Federation board of directors, said above-average rainfall this summer helped his 1,500 acres of peanuts set an exceptional crop. But in late August, he was hoping for a break in the weather, so he could gather those peanuts.”We’ve got a good yield potential. I think it would be a bumper crop if we could get them gathered,” Jeffcoat said. “Right now we need several days of sunshine. The ground is wet, and we need the ground to be dry so we can dig the peanuts. Once we dig them, we need some good sunshine to cure the peanuts.”Jeffcoat said farmers have a short window to harvest their crop after the peanuts mature. If the ground is too wet for farmers to get into their fields, the stems holding the nuts to the vines will weaken, and the peanuts could stay in the ground when the plants are dug.Harvesting problems, however, are just one of the drawbacks to excessive late-season rainfall. Dallas Hartzog, a peanut agronomist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, said soggy weather also promotes the spread of diseases.”We have a situation that has developed this year that has been ideal for disease problems,” Hartzog said. “Constant rain, high humidity for long periods of time and warm temperatures all set the stage for increased disease, and we certainly have it in our fields now.”Although farmers have been able to keep diseases in check with fungicides, Hartzog said some growers are beginning to see more late-season leaf spot and rust in their fields. They also are concerned that warmer temperatures could encourage the growth of white mold.”If it continues to rain, the leaf spot and other diseases will get a lot worse before we harvest, so we’d like to have some sunshiny weather,” Hartzog said. “By and large our growers are very knowledgeable on how to control those diseases. But between now and harvest time, they’ll be paying particular attention to disease control as well as keeping one eye on the sky and one eye on trying to determine when those peanuts are ready to harvest.”Hartzog said weather stations in southeast Alabama are reporting rainfall amounts between 108 percent and 137 percent of normal. In early August, Jeffcoat said farms in his county had received rain 15 of the previous 18 days–sometimes as much as four inches in one 24-hour period.Hartzog noted that while most farmers are expecting a good crop, portions of some fields have been drowned by repeated thunderstorms. In addition, the rain has increased production costs for growers who had to apply fungicides more frequently to control diseases.”The leaf spot chemicals are not working as good as they usually do because we’ve had so much rain,” Jeffcoat said. “As soon as we apply them, the rain washes them off. But we are not seeing as much white mold or stem rot as we normally do,” he added. “I think the rain has helped us on that because it has kept the ground cool.”Both Hartzog and Jeffcoat agree that a “bumper crop” couldn’t come at a better time. Hartzog pointed out that dry weather in three of the past four years has taken a toll on peanut farmers. This year, he said farmers in the traditional peanut producing counties of southeast Alabama planted 20,000 fewer acres of the legume. And unless yields improve, he expects total peanut acreage will continue to decline.”If we were to have a 2003 that was similar to 2000, many of our growers would be farming their last year,” Hartzog said. ” We need a good crop this year not only for peanuts but also cotton and the other row crops. There is hardly a day goes by that a farmer doesn’t say to me, ‘I sure do need a good crop this year.’ With moderate temperatures, good rainfall, and if we can have a good harvest season, some farmers are going to make that good yield this year.”According to the Alabama Agricultural Statistics Service, the state’s peanut producers expect a crop yield of 2,900 pounds per acre, the highest yield since the 1985 record of 2,950 pounds per acre.The Statistics Service predicts Alabama farmers will harvest 210,000 acres of corn for grain this year, up 30,000 bushels from 2002. The estimated average yield is 104 bushels per acre, up 22 bushels. Cotton yields are expected to top 652 pounds per acre, up 145 pounds from last year. Farmers expect to pick 545,000 acres of cotton. Statewide, soybean yields should average 28 bushels per acre, up 4 bushels.
Alabama Peanut Producers Optimistic About 2003 Crop