Ida further slows harvest for Southern farmers

Published 3:15 pm Friday, November 13, 2009

Tropical Storm Ida may not have done much damage when it hit the Gulf Coast this week, but its wind and rain compounded the misery for Southern farmers already coping with a wet, difficult harvest season.

“Tack this to the weather we’ve already had and it’s adding insult to injury. This season has been topsy turvey,” said Andy Wendland, who grows cotton, corn, soybeans, wheat and other grains in central Alabama.

The problem is that a wet spring delayed planting and a rainy, cool fall has delayed the harvest of cotton, peanuts and other crops by more than a month. Ida’s rain and wind further hindered frantic farmers desperate to get crops out of the ground and to market.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“Farmers had been so far behind, this put them in a worse situation than they were already in,” said Greg Gibson, public relations coordinator for the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation. He said Ida mostly affected farmers in the southeastern section of the state.

Jeff Helms, communications director for the Alabama Farmers Federation, said harvest operations already were delayed by one of the wettest Octobers on record.

“Normally this time of year three-fourths of the cotton in the state would be harvested and now only one-third of the cotton has been harvested,” Helms said.

The rains from Ida have also dampened the crop outlook. Farmers said they generally expect yields, especially for cotton, to be lower than normal this year.

“Most of the farmers have gone from viewing this as a good to excellent crop to a fair to good crop,” Helms said.

In some cases, farmers worry that they will lose some of their crop to rot. Others say the quality of their harvest may be harmed by the excess rains.

Jim Kelly, who farms more than 3,000 acres of cotton, peanuts and corn in southeast Alabama and northwest Florida, said cotton turns grayish and becomes less valuable if it stays on the bush too long.

“Overall the cotton quality is not very good. I’d say we’ve lost about 30 percent of the cotton crop at this time,” said Kelly, who is a member of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries Board of Directors.

In Georgia, pecan growers are worried that the moisture will rot pecans before they can be picked. The flavor and quality of peanuts, which grow under the soil, can be harmed by wet, muddy conditions.

“A lot of the pecans are experiencing some rot and the wet weather has contributed to this,” said Don McGough, director of commodities and marketing for the Georgia Farm Bureau.

Wendland, who farms about 2,500 acres near Autaugaville in central Alabama, said he is only halfway through harvesting a cotton crop that normally would be almost be finished by now.

He said he still hopes to harvest most of his crops, even if it means working into the winter.

“I think we are going to get the crops out of the fields one way or the other,” he said.

William Birdsong, an extension agronomy specialist at the Wiregrass Research and Extension Service in Headland in southeast Alabama, said the fall rains, including those from Ida, have left farms “on the verge of disaster.”

Birdsong said it will probably be Friday or Saturday before it’s dry enough for farmers to get back out in the fields. He said delays have been the story of this fall.

“Last week the weather was nice and we were working at full throttle with wide open harvesting of peanuts and cotton,” Birdsong said. “Ida came in and shut us down.”