Battling the rain

Published 11:59 pm Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Rain has become a “four-letter word” to Andalusia’s Joey Holt and his fellow farmers statewide as they face a “potential crisis,” due to rainfall pushing harvests more than a month behind schedule.

Holt, who grows both cotton and peanuts in fields “from Andalusia to 15 miles north of Defuniak Springs, Fla.,” said he is six weeks behind in harvesting peanuts, which in turn puts him behind in harvesting his now-rotting cotton crops.

“It’s because of the rain,” he said. “It’s a cycle really. When I’m behind in peanuts, I’m behind in cotton, and the longer both sit in the ground, the more money I lose,”

State Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks said earlier this week that recent crop assessments show major crops — such as cotton, soybeans, corn and peanuts — have been heavily impacted by recent rainfall.

Prior to September, many producers were expecting to harvest a “bumper crop” and were optimistic for the upcoming harvest season. However, due to uncommon and unfavorable rainfall during September and October, crops have degraded and caused poor harvesting conditions, which caused the harvest to be behind schedule.

It’s no wonder, then, that agriculture officials are predicting decreased profits for the 2009 growing season.

Doyle Barnes, the county’s farm service agent, said the predictions are “right on with the county’s conditions.”

“Peanuts have been affected by all the rain, with the very mature peanuts being left in the ground,” Barnes said. “The stems that hold the peanuts to the vine are being damaged and the leaves are affected more by fungal diseases from the unusual wet conditions in September and October.

“As for cotton, the acreage that was planted ‘early’ in the year has possibly been damaged the most, with yields being reduced from 40 to 50 percent and quality or grade of the lint also being affected in a negative way,” he said. “We are in dire need of a few weeks of beautiful, sunshine and dry weather for harvest of the remaining crop in the fields.”

Luckily for farmers, the most recent weather reports show they may get their wish of beautiful, dry weather all the way through Monday.

And that’s good news for farmers like Holt.

“If you look at this peanut plant, all the good stuff — the stuff that makes up your best yield — is at the top of the plant,” Holt said. “If you imagine these roots running down into the ground, that’s the direction our profit’s going if we don’t get them out of the ground.”