06/28/06 — Not all crops handled rain well

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Not all crops handled rain well

By Turner Walston
Published in News on June 28, 2006 1:59 PM

Farmers in Wayne and surrounding counties say the recent heavy rains have been a mixed blessing. Crops were in desperate need of water, but the downpours that flooded some fields have forced many farmers to bide their time as weeds and pests gain the upperhand.

"I'll quote a friend of mine," said Jerry West, who farms about 3,000 acres near Fremont, "'Before it was so pretty it was scary, and now it's just scary,' the crop situation with all the rain."

Forecasters are calling for a chance of more thunderstorms today and Thursday.

"If it stays cloudy for a few days and dries off slowly, then we won't be so bad off," West said. "Right now, it's sort of a wait-and-see game to see how much rain we get, and see what happens."

"We're not able to spray," said Charlie McClenny, who farms about 1,800 acres in the Smith Chapel area. "We've got tobacco that needs spraying for suckers and insecticide. The ground is so wet we can't cross it with the sprayer."

Kelvin Norris, who farms with father-in-law Bryant Worley on 1,150 acres near Princeton, said the rain is making weeds grow even faster.

"As soon as it dries up we need to get in the field and be full blast," Norris said.

McClenny said two to three days without rain would leave the ground dry enough for spraying, and another dry day afterward would allow insecticides to do their job.

Tobacco sucker control products cannot be sprayed in wet weather, said Kevin Johnson, crop agent for Cooperative Extension.

"They're going to have some large suckers out there that they're going to have to take care of by hand," he said. "They can't spray their picks in cotton, can't put fertilizer out on cotton, can't spray weed control on beans or cotton," he said. "But hey, we're getting rain, and we need rain. Maybe not this much."

Rain also is delaying some farmers from harvesting wheat, Johnson said.

"I'm guessing there's still four or five thousand acres of wheat in the field that need to be picked," he said.

Johnson said wheat needs two to three days after a rain to dry before it can be harvested. Many farmers plant soybeans behind wheat, so the holdup affects not only the wheat crop but the timing of the soybean crop.

Some farmers in northern Wayne County beat the rain and have already planted their soybeans.

"We've lucked out, where some other parts of the county haven't," Norris said.

But even after soybeans are in the ground, over-saturation will put a damper on the crop.

"Those seeds will deteriorate and not sprout and come up where there's too much water," McClenny said. "What you need is just a happy medium."

The moist, warm conditions create an environment for disease to strike the tobacco crop, especially target spot.

The fungus begins on lower leaves and creates circular lesions, Johnson said.

"It'll spread to the point where the leaf will just basically dry up, and then it'll move up the plant." It is then that the fungus becomes a concern, he said.

"I've not seen any, but the conditions are ideal for target spot and some of the diseases that we've seen," McClenny said.

"It's on the horizon, waiting, unless we get some sunshine quickly to dry this stuff out," West said.

One crop that has benefited from the rain is corn. Corn needs water when it reaches the tasseling stage and the recent rains have come at just the right time.

"Corn looks super-great. It's growing like crazy," Johnson said.

West agreed.

"Beautiful," he said. "Probably the prettiest crop of corn we ever had, or as pretty as we've had."

"I think corn is going to do really good," Johnson said. "Of course a hurricane could change all that."