Published on 05/08/03

Planting season good for most Georgia farmers

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

Georgia farmers are now planting, or have just completed planting, their major row crops: tobacco, peanuts, corn and cotton. And depending on the crop, it's the best planting time in years or just another tough start.

Tobacco trouble

Wet weather in early April delayed tobacco transplanting by about three weeks, said J. Michael Moore, a tobacco agronomist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. That could become a problem later in the season.

Damp conditions hindered applying some chemicals that are important to tobacco's early growth. This can lead to diseases.

If you're a tobacco farmer, "dry weather will worry you, but wet weather can ruin you," Moore said.

Tobacco farmers transplant baby plants from field-grown seed beds and greenhouses into their fields. Disease has already hurt these transplants, he said. Farmers expect some of them to die or perform poorly.

There is one bright side. "Tomato spotted wilt virus levels are starting out lower this year than we've seen in previous years," Moore said. TSWV is a deadly disease in tobacco.

Tobacco farmers had a poor crop last year. For this reason, Georgia growers plan to plant a little more tobacco, about 29,440 acres this year. Georgia's quota poundage, the amount of tobacco the federal government allows the state's farmers to sell, will be 64,308,546 pounds.

Best in years

Peanut farmers "are sitting on about the best situation they've seen in many years," said John Beasley, a UGA Extension Service peanut agronomist. Good soil moisture from rain and warm weather mean good planting conditions for peanuts

About 5 percent of the crop had been planted by the first of May. "We expect most of the peanuts to be planted over the next three weeks," Beasley said.

Due in part to the new way peanuts are marketed in the United States and new regions of the state planting the crop, Beasley expects Georgia farmers this year to plant about 550,000 acres of peanuts, 10 percent more than last year.

Most of the Georgia corn crop is planted, and the crop is growing fast, said Dewey Lee, a UGA agronomist. Corn requires a lot of water to grow well. So far, it's getting it naturally through rainfall, with no need of irrigation. That's good.

The rain has washed away sulfur, an important nutrient, from the soil. This has thrown off the crop's fertility balance. But farmers should be able to manage the problem with little loss of yields, he said.

Having to adjust to strong rainfall "is a good problem to have," Lee said. It's a problem Georgia corn growers haven't had in a long time. They're expected to plant about 370,000 acres.

About a fourth of Georgia's expected 1.4 million acres of cotton had been planted by the first of May, said Steve Brown, a UGA cotton agronomist.

"We're off to a pretty good start," he said. "We're in the best shape we've been in several, several years."

Cotton prices are better now than they were a year ago, too, said Don Shurley, a UGA cotton economist. For much of the current planting season, prices have hovered around 60 cents per pound. That's 20 cents better than this time last year.

But cotton prices, he said, have started to decline, due partly to weakened foreign demand and textile mill business.

Better mood

"We're in a much better mood than we've been in the past," said Marty McLendon, a cotton and peanut farmer in Calhoun County in southwest Georgia. "We have moisture in the ground, and the (irrigation) ponds are full.

"And if you could predict with accuracy how the weather will be during this growing season," McLendon said, "I can tell you what kind of mood I'll be in come harvest time. We'll wait and see."

Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.