A lack of timely summer rains across portions of Alabama plus sagging commodity prices and high input costs created low farm income projections and a hit-or-miss harvest for farmers.
Extreme drought plagued north Alabama during pivotal growth periods, but scarce and erratic rainfall was common throughout the state.
“We had rain early on, and the corn looked great,” said Shelby County’s Terry Wyatt, who planted corn this season for the first time in seven years. “Then it stopped raining.”
Wyatt’s Harpersville farm was dry almost six weeks. The 63-year-old’s non-irrigated cropland received fewer than 4 inches of rain in June and July.
While 70 bushels of corn an acre was Wyatt’s goal, in a good year he nearly doubles that. Farmers farther north prayed for 40 bushels this year.
“We just didn’t know if we’d even have a crop this year,” said Wyatt, who is in his 40th year farming. “Once we started harvesting, we hit spots with good-sized ears of corn, but for the most part, they were small and undersized.”
Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Christy Hicks said while corn yields are off last year’s totals, soybean yields should be average.
“We’re going to have decent soybeans this year,” said Hicks, regional Extension agent for east central Alabama. “Some beans that caught late rains will yield 60-70 bushels an acre.”
Tennessee Valley Extension Specialist Tyler Sandlin estimated 35-50 bushels an acre for soybeans in north Alabama – nothing spectacular, but a fair harvest, he said.
Hicks said hot summer days and nights with no relief from high temperatures caused irrigated corn totals in her region to drop to 220 bushels per acre, down 20-30 bushels from 2015. Across Alabama, farmers averaged 165 bushels of corn per acre, with irrigated land yielding from 130 bushels in Madison County to 200 bushels in Pickens County.
Farther south, Monroe County’s Scott Saucer said his 900 acres of cotton and peanuts got adequate rainfall in crucial growth stages, but were dry in late August and early September.
“We had plenty of rain, but the three weeks before peanut harvest were a little dry,” said Saucer, 39, who planted 240 acres of the legume. “I think we’ll have an above- average year, but I won’t know until my checks come in.”
High input costs caused the State Wheat & Feed Grains Committee member to adjust input costs by cutting cottonseeds per acre and reducing fertilizer and crop protection products.
“I didn’t do some of the practices because I was watching my per-acre costs,” said Saucer, who grid-sampled plots last year to better manage soil nutrients. “I don’t know if yields this year will hit it out of the ballpark, but they’ll be above average. The good Lord blessed me this year.”
Alabama Peanut Producers Association (APPA) Director Caleb Bristow predicted slightly above average peanut yields in Alabama – about 3,500 pounds per acre. Spotty rain affected the Wiregrass, too, during growing season and harvest.
“In several parts of the state, we need a rain to dampen soil so we can get the plow in the ground and dig peanuts,” Bristow said.
Poor peanut yields in Argentina plowed the way for Alabama farmers to sell surplus peanuts in storage to Chinese markets, leading to better contract prices. Shortages in Georgia peanut production also are helping Alabama farmers.
For cotton, insect pressure seemed light this year, but boll rot was spotted near the top of plants in field borders, said Hicks. Optimistic about yields, Hicks predicts an average 900 pounds of lint per acre.
Although early-planted cotton suffered from lack of moisture, Sandlin, too, expects good yields in the state, although prices are hovering near 60-cents a pound.
For the third straight year, US farm profitability is expected to decline, according to the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. The 2016 net cash farm income forecast is $94.1 billion, down 13.3 percent from 2015. Net farm income is predicted to drop 11.5 percent to $71.5 billion. Should predictions materialize, net farm income this year would reach its lowest in seven years.
Despite price fluctuations, a fickle market and bad weather, Wyatt said faith – not yields – sustains him.
“I don’t see how you can farm and not be strong in your faith,” Wyatt said. “Even though it can be hard, I wouldn’t do anything else.”