Wet weather: Abundance of rain affects agriculture
by Jessica Loeding
Jul 13, 2013 | 2374 views | 0 0 comments | 57 57 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jack Dempsey, left, and Chris Tidwell inspect an ear of corn from the field they farm in Kingston. Tidwell says the corn stalks behind him should be about 2 feet taller. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Jack Dempsey, left, and Chris Tidwell inspect an ear of corn from the field they farm in Kingston. Tidwell says the corn stalks behind him should be about 2 feet taller. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
From commercial farmers to home gardeners, Bartow County residents feel the effects of almost an extra foot of rain in 2013.

At Wednesday’s farmer’s market in downtown Cartersville, Charles Adams and Chris Tidwell lamented about the plentiful precipitation.

“Right now, everything is about this high,” Tidwell said, gesturing with his hands a measure of about 1 foot, “because we just have planted it about two weeks ago. That’s how wet it has been this year.”

The Kingston farmer grows corn and watermelons commercially, along with personal gardens. Because of the delay in planting, Tidwell said he expected harvests to begin in another month.

Saying 2013 has been the wettest he can remember, periods of dry weather left Tidwell playing catch-up.

“The ground being so wet, we couldn’t get in there with tractors to plow it up. Usually I have watermelons and corn and all that stuff … We couldn’t plant. We just couldn’t get in there to finish working the fields up and all that,” he said. “You would [get dry periods], but we would be busy catching up on everything else and just we’d have a day or two … By the time we got ready, it’d be raining again.”

And rain it has. Bartow County Extension Coordinator Paul Pugliese said Thursday the county is running between 8 and 12 inches above normal rainfall for the year to date.

“To put this into perspective, so far this year we’ve had about 44 inches of rain and 80 rainy days in Bartow. The average amount of rain we usually accumulate by now is about 32 inches,” he said. “For the last three years, we’ve had an annual rain deficit between 8 and 10 inches across most of Bartow County.”

While the abundance of rain helped small grains, corn and forage growth, it impeded late planting and harvesting of wheat and hay, Pugliese explained.

“For those farmers that were able to get their first cutting of hay harvested, the yields have been very high so far. However, because of the wet weather, much of the hay was harvested late and overly mature, which results in lower forage quality,” he said. “When hay is more mature at harvesting, it becomes less digestible to livestock, and therefore, animals receive less nutrients from that hay. This means that farmers will need to supplement their forages with grains and other feed by-products to make up the difference in nutrients. Of course, the cost of these alternative feeds used to supplement livestock is still very high due to shortages during drought the last few years.”

In addition, the wet weather drove up plant diseases and insect pests.

“One of our cornfields has done great, which it always stays kind of wet, but some of the other ones you’ve got short corn, tall corn. It’s just skipped all the way out through here,” Tidwell said. “Some of it’s diseased and some of it wasn’t, but it’s just because of all the water.”

Adams said his home garden on Euharlee Road, like Tidwell’s, will be late producing.

“It’s been a month later than normal. In a normal season, stuff would have been producing a month ago where it’s just now beginning to start,” he said. “The stress [crops suffer from excessive rain] is that the plant stays greener, so when it comes time for it to start flowering, it don’t bear. When it rains on that plant and it’s blooming, it won’t make nothing. That rain gets it bloom and it won’t bear.”

Pugliese, who said farmers may see higher yields if they can manage disease and harvest on time, said other side effects of the rain are evident in the crops themselves.

“For crops that rely on pollination, such as watermelons, the wet weather interrupts pollination and could lead to fewer melons,” he said. “Also, due to excess rainfall in the fruiting stages of watermelons, peaches and other fruits, they will swell with water at a faster rate than they can produce sugars. This can decrease the sweetness and flavor of fruits and potentially lead to fruit splitting and cracking in the field.”

The County Extension Office has received calls and samples from frustrated gardeners and landscapers, with many submissions showing signs of disease.

“I have received numerous samples of tomatoes with severe cases of early blight disease and permanent wilt disease,” Pugliese said. “A permanent wilt disease is caused by a fungal pathogen that disrupts the flow of water inside the plants’ roots and stems. Even though the plants have adequate water, they permanently wilt and then die.

“We’ve also had calls and samples of backyard peaches with brown rot and scab disease. Golf courses and landscapers have submitted turfgrass samples with brown patch and pythium blights. I’ve also gotten a few samples from farmers this spring with fusarium scab disease on wheat. … All of these problems point to one common theme this year: too much rain.”

In a normal year, Tidwell said, he faces very different concerns.

“[In a typical year,] it’s mostly worrying about dry weather because a lot of times when the corn will come in and tassel and you see the little fuzzy things on top, that’s when your corn really needs the rain,” he said. “A lot of years it quits raining when your corn starts tasseling, but this year, it’s just rain and rain and rain.”

Adams agreed.

“In all my years, which is 77 of them, I’ve never seen it rain this much in June and July,” he said.

Each farmer or gardener faces choices as to how to handle the damages of the continued rainfall.

“Over the next few weeks, our row crop farmers are going to need to watch their cotton, soybeans and corn very closely for fungal diseases. Fungicide applications are going to be a necessity this year to reduce yield losses in these crops,” Pugliese said. “Forage producers need to consider cutting their hay earlier to improve nutrition and quality for their livestock.”

Home gardeners can be vigilant about managing diseases on fruits and vegetables by pruning blighted leaves off vegetables, removing severely diseased plants from the garden and spraying fungicides early to minimize the spread of diseases,” he said, adding that for organic gardeners, copper- and sulfur-based fungicides work well on a variety of diseases.

But, despite the downside to the deluge, Pugliese pointed out the one bright spot.

“On a positive note, I planted a vegetable garden this year and haven’t had to water it once,” he said. “I always ask clients how often they water their gardens to troubleshoot cultural problems in the garden. This year, the correct answer to this question is ‘no water needed.’”

For more information, contact the Extension Office at 770-387-5142 or visit www.caes.uga.edu/extension/bartow.