MONTGOMERY — Alabama farmers are looking at this summer’s unusually heavy rains as both a blessing and a curse.
Large amounts of rainfall are great for crops such as corn and wheat, but vegetable and fruit growers are having to abandon a large portion of their crop, especially in south Alabama.
“We’ve probably gotten a year’s worth of rain in three months,” Jeremy Sessions, a farmer in Mobile County told Alabama Daily News.
Sessions grows a variety of crops but said most of his vegetables have been devastated by the amounts of rain they have seen in the past few months. He said, normally, they would harvest about 50,000 to 65,000 pounds of melons to the acre, but this year he only expects to get half of that.
But most farmers are counting their blessings, saying they would much rather be dealing with too much rain than not enough.
“We don’t want to complain about the rain because I can’t get the water any other way,” Richard Edgar, a farmer in Elmore County, said.
Edgar grows various row crops like corn, wheat and soybeans and has experienced so much rainfall he’s had to use a pontoon boat to access some areas of his land.
North and south Alabama have been getting the most rainfall, with some cities recording their wettest June on record. For instance, Anniston, with 10.55 inches of rain, which is about 6.18 inches above average, according to data from the National Weather Service.
Muscle Shoals got 7.13 inches of rain in June, which is 2.08 inches above average. Mobile got 14.22 inches of rain in June, which was 7.67 inches above average, making it the fifth rainiest June on record.
Central Alabama farmers, especially corn growers, have said they are enjoying the consistent rain.
The Birmingham area received 8.46 inches of rain in June, which is about 3.68 inches above average.
Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Rick Pate said that, overall, he hasn’t heard of that many negative impacts on farmers from the heavy rainfall.
“It’s probably the right time of year to be getting too much rain,” Pate said. “If it was later in the fall when people were trying to harvest it would probably be more detrimental.”
Mary Wilson, news director for the Alabama Farmers Federation, said she has heard good and bad stories from farmers about the rainfall, with one cotton farmer already losing 100 to 200 acres due to the rain.
“The mantra that we hear from farmers so often is that they would rather be dealing with too much rain than not enough,” Wilson said. “But we’re very close to that tipping point where, if we don’t get some days of sunshine here soon, then some of our farmers are looking at a tough harvest.”
Alabama’s hay production has been benefiting from the increased rainfall but it is also preventing farmers from doing their second cutting of hay this year. Hay producers need to cut periodically to protect the quality of the hay because, while taller grass does increase the quantity, it can also mean the quality of the hay takes a hit.
According to the most recent crop progress and condition report from the United States Department of Agriculture, Alabama’s hay progress for second cuttings is only at 63% when last year this time it was already at 79%.
Before hay can be collected, it must be cured in the field after being cut for a day or two, requiring a couple of days of consistent dryness.
Ben Maples is a cattle farmer in Limestone County and said the steady rainfall has prevented him from doing his second cutting of hay.
“But what we are hoping is that with all of the rain, when we can get into the field, that our tonnage is going to be up and we are going to be able to meet our quota for later this winter,” Maples told ADN.
The rainfall is also stopping farmers from conducting preventative care on crops that will be harvested later in the year, such as cotton and peanuts.
“When it’s this wet for row crops, you’re not going to be able to apply herbicides or pesticides because it’s too wet to get the machinery out in the field,” Wilson said. “Farmers aren’t going to spray that and just have it wash off and lose their investment.”
Infestations of insects such as fire ants and armyworms have been on the rise in hay crops due to the wet months as well, according to a report from Auburn University’s Alabama Cooperative Extension System.
Thomas Adams, a farmer based in Henry County, said he is concerned that if an extended period of drought follows the recent rainy months, that could be detrimental to his cotton and peanut crops.
“If it turned real dry, it can be disastrous because once you get behind the only way to catch up is you need the weather to be perfect and a drought would devastate this crop because it’s been so wet, the crops haven’t set a deep root in the ground,” Adams told ADN. “They couldn’t get the moisture that’s down in the subsoil if it’s turned all dry.”
The financial impact from the heavy rainfall hasn’t been felt immediately on most farmers.
Edgar said during the last several production loads of his winter wheat, the wet conditions have caused about a 40% discount in the price of the wheat because of damage to the quality. The delay in harvesting his wheat has also meant a delay in planting his soybean crop.
“The fall will tell the tale on the rest of our harvest,” Edgar said.