Some areas are right on schedule, but other producers face uncertainty and challenges.
For the most part, planting is on schedule for many producers aided by warm temperatures and adequate moisture. For others, particularly those still reeling from the devastation of Hurricane Michael, the barriers to planting seem insurmountable.
Pam Knox, University of Georgia agricultural climatologist, reports that farmers in the southern half of Georgia benefited from drier conditions, particularly in April, while producers in the northern half of the state were still working to prepare fields.
The slightly drier-than-normal conditions and warmer temperatures in southeastern Georgia helped agricultural producers make a lot of progress in crop planting and chemical treatments.Areas that were affected by wet conditions mid-month saw a temporary slowdown in field work while they waited for soils to dry enough to support heavy equipment.
Outlook Through July
“Precipitation was near normal across the central part of Georgia in April, but wetter than normal in the far north. Most of that rain fell on April 19 as a strong low-pressure center passed through the state,” she says.
Knox says the outlook for May through July shows that temperatures are expected to be warmer than normal. Precipitation is expected to be above normal in the three-month period but leaned toward only slightly wetter-than-normal conditions in May.
Increased Yields, Increased Costs
By mid-May, North Carolina State University Extension agronomist David Jordan says about 25 percent of the region had been planted to peanuts.
“Soil temperatures have warmed nicely and have been hovering near 70 degrees Fahrenheit,” he says. “After having a wet start to April, moisture has since been coming and going. Rain is spotty in the forecast, and some rain would help with washing in and activating preemergence herbicides that are going out, including Valor, Prowl and Strongarm.”
Overall, peanut planting in the Virginia-Carolina region is expected to be down from plantings in 2018, but it’s the southernmost V-C state of South Carolina that is expected to decrease acreage most significantly.
“Price is the major driver for this decrease, but weak prices for other commodities has maintained most of the acreage in North Carolina and Virginia,” Jordan says. “Although drought and then excessive tropical weather at harvest affected all three states in the V-C region over the past few growing seasons, South Carolina was hit the hardest.”
Jordan notes that production costs have increased for peanut, and while yield has increased over the past two decades due to variety improvements, longer rotations, production in more appropriate peanut soils, availability of more effective crop protection products, and good management, it’s the yearly fluctuation in weather that makes each year challenging.
Inadequate Funding To Start
For some producers, planting simply may not happen this year. University of Georgia Extension ag economist, Adam Rabinowitz reports that a recent survey of Extension agents in both Georgia and Florida shows a great deal of uncertainty in areas affected by Hurricane Michael.
“Many farmers in the region are unable to fully, or even partially, begin their usual production activities for the 2019 season because of the losses or damage sustained from Hurricane Michael. The lingering problems are more pronounced in field crops including peanuts, cotton, corn and soybeans, as well as fruits and vegetables, pecans and beef cattle.”
Rabinowitz says the most common reasons for the recovery delay: the lack of adequate financing and incomplete cleanup and repairs. “Some farmers have simply gone out of business or permanently stopped farming.”
More Permanent Solutions Needed
Hurricane Michael also inflicted significant, and in some cases catastrophic, damage to farmhouses, buildings, equipment, fencing, irrigation systems and perennial plantings. Producers face mounting costs for cleanup, replacements and repairs.
Without disaster relief aid, farmers are having a hard time getting the financing they need to repair or replace damaged infrastructure.
Additionally, many damaged irrigation systems still have not been fixed or replaced. These systems are a critical risk-management investment for producers who rely on irrigation to provide more consistent yields and to protect against drought.
Without these systems, farmers risk significant reductions in agricultural production, especially for field crops, fruits and vegetables.
The exact long-term damages to agriculture from Hurricane Michael are still unknown. For now, farmers in the region face considerable challenges and await a one-time special disaster relief allocation while a more permanent solution to support disaster preparedness, response and recovery is desperately needed.