Summer takes

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 9, 1999

toll on crops

By BRIAN BLACKLEY

Managing Editor

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Published Sept. 9, 1999

A dismally hot and dry late summer has proved tough for Pike County farmers who planted a higher than usual acreage of cotton.

"The cotton crop is not looking good," said Pike County Extension Agent David Carpenter. "When these plants get hot and dry, they’ll abort blooms because they simply can’t support them. In some cases, that’s exactly what has happened."

This year, Pike County farmers, facing peanut surpluses and crop quotas, planted a total of about 11,000 acres of cotton compared to 9,000 acres of peanuts.

"This is an unusually high volume of cotton," said Carpenter.

So far, the report isn’t in on cotton. Carpenter said little or no picking has begun, though several farmers have begun to defoliate. Still, he said, blooms were aborted in many cases due to a lack of rainfall and scorching heat beginning in mid-July.

Mike Thomas, manager of Goshen Co-Op, said farmers in his area are anticipating a grim cotton harvest.

"We have farmers who are hopeful to see one to one-and-a-half bales to the acre," Thomas said. "The early cotton may be good, but overall, it is hurting."

Cotton wasn’t the only commodity hit by the heat and lack of rain. Carpenter reported the chicken, or "broiler" crop, suffered considerably.

"The chickens were hit very hard by the hot, dry weather," he said. "Seven pound birds that are facing 105 degree temperatures in these environmentally controlled houses just can’t survive."

The high mortality rate among the broilers is one reason that corn, although providing good yields in Pike County, faces stagnant pricing, Thomas said.

"The chicken farmers are only buying what they have contracted for," he said. "The local farmers who booked early are having a good year with their corn, but those that didn’t contract are having trouble selling."

Open market pricing is sitting at $79 to $80 per ton for corn. Prices climbed as high as $92 this season.

Part of the reason for corn’s success in yields is due to a moist early season, Thomas said. Although the summer has been dry and corn’s moisture requirements are high, the crop is planted early.

"All of the early crops are showing better yields," Thomas said.

Almost all of the corn in Pike County has been harvested.

Peanuts got a late start due to early wet weather, and are consequently late being harvested. That lateness is having a negative effect on the crop.

"We really hurt for rain the whole month of August," Thomas said. "That took a toll on our peanut crop and I expect yields will be effected."

So far, peanuts are only at about the 20 percent mark on being harvested, Carpenter said. Yields are low, but quality is good.

"The grades are above average," Thomas said. "The yield has been hurt and that will be pretty dramatic in late-season peanuts."

Peanuts are valued at about $614 per ton, Thomas said.

Hay, though not a large crop, is not faring well either.

"It has been so dry and hot that for the past 60 days that it has affected the quality and quantity of the hay crop," Carpenter said. "The pastures are hot and dry. We need an adequate rain or we will be feeding hay early."

This year was an unusual one with peanut acreage surpassing cotton acreage. That switch in major crops has not been good for most area farmers, but the reports are still early.

"There’s a good deal of harvesting left to do," said Carpenter.

Until the final crops are harvested, farmers are still in need of rainfall, which has been in short supply since mid-July.

Carpenter is still hopeful that some late season rains will help what’s left to be harvested. Still, he said, this crop year will not be recorded as a good one and all of Pike County could see the consequences.

"This kind of year only affects the people that eat or wear clothes," he said.