Crops outlook good in Suffolk

Published 5:21 pm Saturday, October 10, 2009

If the weather continues to be favorable, agricultural producers in Suffolk and throughout the state could wind up with one of their best years in recent memory, according to area and state experts.

“These sunny days are just what we need for continuing maturity on crops, and they have certainly been a good aid on the harvest,” Suffolk Extension Agent Rex Cotten said Friday.

Crop yields have been somewhat variable, he added, but things are looking good for farmers around the city.

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“Peanuts are being dug, and cotton is being defoliated,” Cotten said. “For the most part, both crops have been a little better than we expected.”

The Peanut City has only about 1,400 acres of peanuts planted this year, according to Suffolk’s Farm Service Agency. That total represents a little less than a tenth of the amount of peanuts planted in Suffolk 10 years ago and less than half of last year’s acreage devoted to the crop that made Suffolk famous, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The drop in peanut production mirrors a statewide trend, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which estimates that Virginia farmers will harvest about 40.8 million pounds of peanuts this year, down 49 percent from 2008.

After a big jump in the 2007 growing season, acreage devoted to corn for grain also has fallen significantly during the past two years, judging from a comparison of FSA estimates of this year’s crop and statistics from past years compiled by the NASS.

Corn-for-grain acreage reached a peak of 13,500 acres in Suffolk in 2007. This year, the crop accounts for only 9,600 of the city’s 50,000 or so commercially planted acres.

VDACS predicts that corn yields will be up around the state this year, resulting in a production increase of as much as 24 percent. But corn yields have been spotty throughout the city, according to Cotten.

“When it’s all done, we hope we end up with a fair corn crop,” he said.

Making up for the lost acreage in corn and peanuts, Suffolk farmers planted more soybeans and upland cotton this year.

Cotton acreage rose from 10,800 acres last year to about 11,100 acres this year. Soybeans account for 23,200 planted acres this year, up about 1,000 acres from the 2008 growing season.

Area farmers are preparing for the cotton harvest right now, having begun defoliating the crop. Soybeans, Cotten said, have a bit longer to go, but the crop looks like it should be a good one this year.

“Soybeans are fruiting up well,” he said. “They look to have quite a bit of promise.”

Estimates from VDACS indicate that the state’s soybean producers are expected to harvest about 21.5 million bushels this year, up about 18 percent from last year.

Cotton production is expected to grow about 6 percent from 2008.