Record rains affect local farmers’ growing schedules

Published 11:02 pm Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sun — it’s one of two key components in a perfect harvest.

It’s also the one component lacking for area farmers in not only Covington County, but also all of Alabama during the last several weeks.

Russell Wiggins and his father, Ricky, are two local farmers who are watching as excessive rains wreak havoc with the planting and harvesting of crops such as cotton, peanuts, corn and wheat.

“When you’re a farmer, there’s two ways the weather can go — wet or dry,” Ricky Wiggins said. “Here lately, it’s been all wet, and it worries us. We’re not crippled yet, but we are behind in planting our peanuts and corn.”

This time last year, more than 60 percent of the state was in a drought. Judging by the amount of water standing in the Wiggins’ farm field and data from the National Weather Service, 2009 is one of the wettest years on record for Covington County. NWS reports the county has received between 35 to 38 inches of rain this year. Average rainfall for the spring months is 15 inches; the record was spring 1975 when 34.4 inches fell. The county has already surpassed that total by nearly 4 inches.

That is a lot of rain dumped on 500 acres of wheat, 1,100 acres of cotton and 500 acres of pastureland on the Wiggins’ farm. The family, who has operated the farm since 1952, is waiting to harvest its wheat before planting 450 acres of corn and 400 acres of peanuts.

“Right now, our biggest holdup is wheat,” Wiggins said. “We need to cut, but you can’t harvest in the rain. I just talked with my insurance agent, who said he’s already had calls about crops. The wheat has sprouted in some cases and when that happens, it’s not marketable.”

Wiggins said once the wheat is harvested, peanuts will take its place.

“So, is the rain a hold up? Absolutely,” he said. “Our corn was affected by the March weather, but we’ve recovered somewhat from that. We’ve got a lot of hay to cut, too. The longer that it’s in the field, it decreases the quality. Then if you cut it and it rains, you got wet hay.

“The old adage, ‘make hay when the sun shines,’ is literal,” he said. “You got to have sun to have a good hay crop. When it gets wet when it’s cut, that’s a crop of bad-quality hay. That’s just the way it is.”

And “the way it is” for the entire Wiggins family is farming.

“This is our livelihood,” Wiggins said. “We love it. We were raised on it. It’s what we do. We farm and our wives raise children. My dad bought this place when I was 2. I’ve got four children and eight grandchildren. This is home.”

Doyle Barnes of the Farm Service Agency said the heavy rainfall has had some positive benefits.

“Pasture land throughout the county looks great — green and healthy — because of all the rain,” Barnes said. “The problem is you can plant when it’s dry, but getting it out of the ground gets pushed back because of the rain. All in all though, I’d say most productions in the county are in good shape.”

Wiggins agreed with Barnes’ positive outlook.

“Oh, we’re going to make it,” Wiggins said. “We’ve got to. I used to worry a lot about the weather. Now I know we do what we can do when we can do it. The rest works itself out.”