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DOTHAN, Ala. -- Agronomist William Birdsong cannot recall a growing season where farmers in southeastern Alabama have worked as hard as they have in this one -- and it's all because of inconsistent weather.

Some areas have received plenty of rain, while others need some good showers soon, said Birdsong, who works with the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service. A colder start to the year also delayed the beginning of planting season.

But a dry stretch to open May followed by several downpours has produced one major dichotomy for those who grow peanuts and cotton, Birdsong said. Those who planted in early May have a crop that is developing on time, while those who delayed may need a wet September and October -- usually dry for harvest season -- to raise a strong crop.

"This has been a very stressful planting season," Birdsong said. "We have two distinct stages for cotton and peanuts, which are our primary row crops."

Since the colder March and April caused some delays to the planting of peanuts and cotton, farmers faced a critical decision in early May -- plant in really dry conditions or wait to see if rains will fall.

The Dothan area received no rain for 13 days between late April and mid-May, according to the weather website Wunderground. Then the rain arrived -- and stayed.

The area received rain 15 of the next 16 days, including 10 straight days of precipitation. The conditions became too wet for farmers to set their crops.

"I call it 'light-switch May,' There was no in-between phase," Birdsong said. "When it started raining, it never shut off. It's topsy-turvy, and the farmers are working really hard. They're just stressed out. There's a lot of uncertainty left."

Birdsong said about half of the farmers decided to plant in the drier conditions of early May. He noted those crops look "very good" and have "good potential" if there are steady rains this month and in August.

The other half of the crops, though, are about two weeks behind developmentally -- which will require steady rains through October, Birdsong said. September and October are two of the three driest months of the year for much of the region, according to the U.S. Climate Data website.

Birdsong said the results have not "discouraged" him, but he knows they have created more work for local farmers.

In terms of corn crops, the weather has actually been beneficial, Birdsong said. He noted the rains have produced plenty of plants for cattle to consume, though some farmers have not been able to cut hay due to wet conditions.

Business on 07/06/2018

Print Headline: Rain, drought vexing farmers

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