Farmers scramble as Nate’s force could ransack crops

Published 3:31 am Saturday, October 7, 2017

A westward shift in the projected track of Tropical Storm Nate is potentially putting Alabama farmers—and their fall crops—in the line of fire.

Producers in south Alabama are putting noses to the grindstone and harvesting peanuts and sweet potatoes into the night, while farmers in central Alabama focus on peanuts and recently defoliated cotton, according to the Alabama Extension Service.

Alabama Extension regional crops agent Kimberly Wilkins said producers are running equipment as hard and as long as they can in preparation for the anticipated wind and rain over the coming weekend. She said peanuts and sweet potatoes are the biggest concern right now.

“Most producers are digging peanuts right now. A lot of our cotton is behind as a result of rain and cloudiness in the spring,” Wilkins said. “They have been waiting as long as possible to defoliate trying to give the cotton time to open a few more bolls. If it is defoliated, they will pick. If not, they will hold on and hope the storm does not pick it for them.”

Chuck Simon, Covington County Extension coordinator, said farmers in his area have been cutting and baling hay. He said those with peanuts plan not to dig more until forecasters confirm Nate’s path.

After Irma, mangled cotton plants have made harvest difficult. Pickers outfitted with GPS technology help farmers efficiently pick lodged cotton. Lodging occurs when strong winds tangle the cotton plants together.

Alabama Extension regional crops agent Brandon Dillard also said producers in Geneva County plan to run harvest equipment through the night depending on dew levels. Dillard said it is windy and producers are hoping for dry nights to continue harvesting until Nate makes landfall

Extension crops specialist Kris Balkcom said producers are concerned for the later peanuts that are still a month from digging. Balkcom is working to help them determine which fungicide to spray and when.

“The problem is they can’t get good coverage with the wind blowing as much as it has the past few days,” Balkcom said. “Ideally it would be best to spray before the storm. However, peanut farmers may have to change products and spray after the storm.”

Sandlin said soybean producers with early and full season beans are also working overtime to harvest ahead of Nate. He said while a nice rain would be welcome in pastures and some other areas, the wind a tropical storm potentially brings is not ideal for cotton or soybean harvest.