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Serving: Central

This frightening 2009 season

Surely, Halloween cannot be as scary as the 2009 Mid-South growing season.

Our spring was more suited for raising catfish than producing crops, as excessive rains and cool weather delayed planting and created two crops — one late, one early — that would challenge growers all summer long.

July and August deluges put growers in unfamiliar territory during what are traditionally the dog days of summer. Growers found themselves suddenly worried more about getting water off the field rather than getting water on the field.

The hard work eventually began to pay off as USDA began projecting above-average to near-record yields in the Mid-South for some crops.

Then came a harvest delayed by — well, rain. At the time of this writing, a lot of Mid-South cotton, corn, rice, soybean and grain sorghum crops were still sitting in fields unharvested even as grocery stores were lining their aisles with Halloween treats.

Almost every farmer I’ve talked to says he’s never experienced anything like this season. Not in 20 years, not in 30 years, not in 50 years. It’s not just the rain, the wretched delays and deteriorating crops. It’s figuring out what to do next.

When you ask farmers how they’re doing, they tell you they’re thankful to still have their families and their health. This is a tribute to the toughness and character necessary to take on the huge risks of putting seed in the ground year after year. It’s also a sure sign that things are not going well.

A soybean producer in Mississippi told me he was going to blend a few of his deteriorating Group 4s with his Group 5s to minimize the poor quality of the 4s. But the rains have kept coming and coming and now his Group 5s have been in the field so long, they’re starting to deteriorate, too.

Some farmers waiting to get their corn dried down for harvest are finding rising moisture levels instead. I’ve seen field after field with corn plants consisting of nearly leafless stalks with ears hanging on for dear life.

There are two crops of cotton — one that is defoliated and ready for the picker and one that is barely open. Harvest of early cotton has been hamstrung because fields are either too wet or growers are trying to get other crops out of the field first. Late cotton is shaping up for disaster, unless the sun shines and the temperatures rise.

Rice harvest has been muddy, and ruts will add to ground preparation costs in the spring, although yields have held up. But harvest keeps stalling and a lot of rice is on the ground.

In mid-October, potential yield was still hanging on plants, but with rain seemingly in every 10-day forecast, the trick is choosing between crop readiness and opportunity. I can’t think of a better Halloween treat than for Mid-South growers to get those final bolls, kernels and beans into their baskets.


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