Pictured: Peanut pickers were working around the clock on Mark Hanna’s farm
“Hurricane Michael, which I was not really tracking until Saturday, is gaining strength now and threatening to hit the Gulf Coast and to make its way through Seminole County. Right now predictions are for this hurricane to reach a Cat 3 strength prior to pounding the Florida Panhandle. This is not a good situation for anyone in it’s path,” commented Seminole County UGA Extension Agent Andrew Warner.
So, what does this mean for farmers? Farmers in Seminole County have been working around the clock to try to get in as much as they can before the storm, but they still have a long ways to go. Although he knows it is too late in some cases, Warner offers the following thoughts on the current situation facing Seminole County farmers.
Farmers are deep into peanut season here in Seminole County, meaning a lot of the peanuts have been harvested, but a lot are still in the field. I estimate we still probably have ~30% (~7,000 acres) of the crop in the ground or just dug. My suggestion would be to leave peanuts in the ground that have five or more days until optimum harvest date, and still have strong vine health. This is because with cooler temperatures coming in, peanut maturity will slow down dramatically possibly giving us a few more days than expected. To combat very mature peanuts with weakened stems after the storm, you will have to slow down the diggers. Slowing down peanut diggers and properly adjusting the conveyor system (shaker chain and inverter) will be critical, but will work in most cases, depending on the vine health.
For peanuts that are more ten days out from digging I would suggest applying a fungicide to protect against late leaf spot. This year has been the worst year I have seen for late leaf spot, so you need to get something out there to help control this problem now rather than waiting after the storm.
For peanuts that are ready now or have poor vine health it is a gut call for the farmer… I really don’t know what to tell you because it is going to cost you any way you go. I will say that in the past if peanuts sit out for two weeks before you can harvest them you are looking at significant header loss on the combine. Slowing down your combine and adjusting header speed and height is critical when harvesting older dug peanuts. If vine health is bad, it may be best to dig those peanuts prior to the storm and hope for the best when it comes to harvest, due to the fact digger losses (after the storm) may be higher than the losses from the storm or from the combine. With peanuts that are dug that have not dried down, it may be best to pay the dryer fee and harvest as many as you can before the storm, but that is ultimately a gut call for the farmer.
The cotton situation is not good considering a lot of fields have been defoliated and most of the cotton has open bolls. I estimate <10% of total cotton acres have been harvested so far this year, which sets this crop up for trouble. The defoliated cotton I expect to take the biggest hit due to it being exposed to the weather. If some cotton can be harvested before the storm, please try to get to it!!! If it is not ready to harvest, but is defoliated, then it is going to have to ride through the storm. I expect to see a lot of blow out after the storm, so take before and after pictures so we can estimate yield losses afterwards. If this hurricane hits with the strength it is predicted to, we will need those estimates. For cotton that has not been defoliated, expect the cotton to be severely tangled making it hard to pick in the near future. Before and after pictures could help with this as well for estimate of losses. We will have to see what happens during this storm, but I will be taking a lot of before and after pictures and collecting yield loss estimates as well.
Other crops in the county, like soybeans, sweet corn, pecans, and vegetables also stand to take a pretty significant hit from this storm if it is as bad as predicted. So, just like with cotton, before and after pictures may be needed for insurance purposes after the storm.
I don’t usually like to end on a doom and gloom article, but this storm is not looking good for Seminole County Farmers. Key things to do after the storm is stay on top of peanut maturity for later planted peanuts, because, like I said, maturity will slow down dramatically with cooler temperatures. With cotton make sure you are timely getting back into the field for harvest after the storm, because older cotton usually equals lighter cotton at a lower grade. Also, cool temperatures may start shutting down some of the younger cotton after storm. If younger cotton starts shutting down after the storm you need to be timely with defoliation and rates on defoliants change with cooler temperatures. Remember before and after pictures may help tell how bad the crop was impacted and would be helpful with insurance claims.
For any information on cotton/peanut harvest, or on crop damage after the storm please contact Warner at 229-524-2326.