Farmers' planting slowed by frequent rains
by Patrick McCreless
May 05, 2013 | 4755 views |  0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tony Traffanstedt shows off some of his farm's produce at the Calhoun County farmer's market. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Tony Traffanstedt shows off some of his farm's produce at the Calhoun County farmer's market. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Keith Bryant normally has all his cotton planted by now.

This year, however, the Alexandria farmer had yet to sow a single seed by late April.

"I need to plant cotton and cut hay," Bryant said. "We need to be in the field and can't hardly do it right now because of all the rain."

Alabama has experienced several weeks of cool temperatures and excessive rainfall, which has oversaturated the soil and slowed farming across the state, resulting in below-average yields, agriculture experts say.

"I'm being slowed down," said Bryant, who plans to plant 400 acres of cotton this year. "I need four or five days of hot sunshine to dry the land out."

Bryant said however, that the season is not yet ruined. He said his cotton harvest will be fine as long as he can plant by May 15.

According to figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Alabama field office, the number of crops planted so far this year in the state is far below what was planted during the same period last year and the five-year average for the state. For instance, 70 percent of the state's corn was planted the week of April 28 — less than the 92 percent of corn planted by the same time last year. The five-year state average was 84 percent for corn planted during that time.

Meanwhile, 15 percent of the state's cotton was planted by April 28, a decrease from the 23 percent planted over the same period last year.

U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics also show that Calhoun County and most of the state has far more topsoil moisture than is needed. As of April 28, 52 percent of the district that includes Calhoun County had a surplus in topsoil moisture.

Bill Weaver, director of the Alabama field office for the Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service, said the excessive rain has been impacting farmers across the state.

"We're hearing reports of farmers having a hard time getting corn in the ground and early soybeans because it's so wet," Weaver said.

David West, extension coordinator for the Calhoun County office of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, said he's heard of area farmers having a tough time this season due to the rain.

"It's too wet for folks to get in the fields in a lot of instances," West said. "Farmers with large equipment to get in and out are going to get delayed."

In addition to soggy soil, the rain is also ruining some farmers' fertilizing efforts, Weaver said.

"When you have a lot of rain like that, you have the potential of leaching out the nitrogen that was put in late last year while keeping you from putting on new topsoil," Weaver said. "So as a result, your growth is not as good."

Weaver said state farmers still have some time before agricultural production is truly hurt by the rain.

"If it dries up soon, they'll be fine," Weaver said. "But if we have another week or two of rain, there will be some problems."

Tony Traffanstedt, who farms outside of Piedmont, was trying to sell the little produce he had on a recent Tuesday at the Calhoun County Farmers Market. Traffanstedt said he has managed to plant some corn and tomatoes, but not as much as he had planned due to the rain.

"It's been rough; it's been slowing us down," he said. "And when you have too much water, it rots your seed."

Bryant said even after the rain ends, there is still cause for concern.

"Usually seasons follow one another ... I'm concerned that once this rain does quit, we'll have five to six weeks of dry weather," Bryant said. "That'll hurt us too."

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.
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