Soggy cotton and waterlogged peanuts have farmers concerned about crop quality in the wake of Tropical Storm Nate, which brought 35 mph winds and torrential rain to parts of Alabama last week.
It’s too early to accurately calculate yield loss from the storm, though farmers like Dallas County’s Wendy Yeager say damage was less than anticipated.
“I expected it to be flat on the ground,” said 39-year-old Yeager, whose Orrville farm looked to produce two-bale or more cotton before the storm. “God is good. This could have been so much worse. It could have all been not harvestable and on the ground.”
Tree lines protected much of Yeager’s crop, but 120 acres of mature cotton were soggy, with lint littering the rows. Yeager’s crop insurer estimates a 20 percent loss of bolls that were open when Nate blew through.
In Mobile County, Sessions Farm prepared for wind up to 120 mph, but Jeremy Sessions estimates gusts only reached 60 mph. While Sessions was optimistic about their cotton crop, which wasn’t defoliated when the storm came through, the farm’s 250 acres of peanuts are a pressing concern.
“We decided to dig up all we had for fear that so much water would prevent digging, then they might rot in the ground,” Sessions said. “However, rain that’s fallen since they’ve been dug will reduce our quality, if we can even get them picked. Since they’ve been exposed so long, a lot of the peanuts will go out the back of the picker with the vines.”
Sessions said the family’s satsuma crop fared well, but pecans were significantly damaged.
“We’re glad we survived the storm,” Sessions said. “What we need more than anything now is some dry days and cooler temperatures. Warm days will make cotton much more likely to sprout.”
Yeager’s concerns were similar in the Black Belt. Mild wind and sunny days helped dry the cotton lint, but seed germination, or sprouting, concerned Yeager.
“If we continue to have conditions conducive to sprouting, our seed will not be of the value it should,” Yeager said.
The Alabama Farmers Federation’s Carla Hornady said summer storms after planting and Nate’s recent arrival will push back cotton harvest for some growers.
“Our biggest concern for cotton farmers is yield loss due to lint on the ground and reduced seed quality,” said Hornady, the Federation’s Cotton, Soybean and Wheat & Feed Grains divisions director. “Farmers are paid by the pound and the grade of cotton. They need their product to be the best, brightest white possible.”
Hornady said farmers have begun defoliating cotton across the state. Pickers will begin gathering the fluffy white bolls several days later.
“Harvest will wrap up later than usual this year, but as long as we don’t get another storm, yields will look good across the board,” she said.
Cotton production is forecast at 870,000 bales, up 23 percent from last year, according to the Oct. 12 U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Crop Production report. Peanut production is expected to be up 30 percent from last year at 806 million pounds, with a record yield of 4,200 pounds per acre. Soybean acreage is calculated at 15 million bushels, up 14 percent from 2016. Pecan production is forecast at 2.40 million pounds, an increase of 9 percent from last year.