Picking on Valentine’s Day

Historically on Valentine’s day, growers across the Mid-South and Southeast would be thinking about planting corn.

But Terry Phillips of Soperton, GA, was thinking about picking cotton. Seriously, he was.

“I still have about 200 acres to pick,” he said. “Every time we think we’re going to be able to get back in the field and get the rest of it, it rains again. Since the first of October to the 31st of January, we had 30 inches of rain. My Daddy is 76-years-old and he said he’d never seen anything like this.”

Pam Knox, a meteorologist and assistant state climatologist at the University of Georgia school of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, said an El Niño weather pattern dominated Georgia in the winter of 2009/10 and brought cold, rainy weather to much of the state.

“Cold air from the arctic was tied up with the subtropical jet stream,” she explained. ”We had all the rain and flooding, and it was related to the tropics, but not to hurricanes or tropical storms.”

An El Niño is opposite on the east and west coasts. For example, while the east coast was seeing record snowfalls this winter, the Olympics in Vancouver was short on snow.

“We first noticed the El Niño was starting in late August and I think that contributed to the lack of tropical storms this year,” Knox said. “It developed over the course of the winter and became a strong one ― we don’t normally see them get that strong. But this has been the classic El Niño pattern, especially in south Georgia.”

El Niño weather patterns normally last for 12 months; occasionally slightly longer. But Knox says this El Niño, even though it was abnormally strong, is already showing signs of early weakening.

“We could actually go through a dry spell in the spring in the Southeast,” she explained. “It’s so wet now, it feels like we may never dry out. But as the pattern shifts – as the El Niño moves away – it won’t be concentrated over Georgia. I think that would be good for the farmers because they’re complaining. They can’t get in the field.”

Knox says that although it’s variable, the time between El Niños is usually three to five years. Normally a La Niña, which has the opposite effect of an El Niño, will come somewhere in between. El Niños have been known to follow El Niños, but rarely.

Despite the horrendous harvest conditions blamed on the El Niño, it could very well have played a part in the surprising yields south Georgia wound up with.

“The late rain we had in August and September helped our cotton fill out,” Phillips said. “It made our crop. The staple and mic were fine. The only thing it seemed to have affected was the color. I’ve been happy with the crop, I just wish I could have gotten through earlier.”
“Our (DP) 555 (BG/RR) picked anywhere from 1,000 to 1,300 pounds,” he said. “555 and (DP) 515 (BG/RR) are what I have left to pick, but they are holding up real well.”

Glyphosate-resistant palmer amaranth is no stranger to south Georgia and Phillips planted FiberMax 1845 LLB2 – a LibertyLink/Bollgard II variety that allowed him to use Ignite, a non-selective alternative to glyphosate – where it was a problem. “I was happy with it,” he said. “Under irrigation, it averaged 1,300 pounds. I was happy with the way the Ignite worked and I’ve already got seed ordered for this coming year.”

Phillips says for 2010 he intends to increase his cotton acreage by 20%, to 1,200 acres, keep his same 350 acres of peanuts and drop corn and soybeans.

At the B. C. T. Gin Co. in Quitman, GA, Steve Bullard agreed that although it was definitely a difficult year, yields and grades were a pleasant surprise.

“We had trouble getting it out, but our yields and grades held up very well,” he said. “We’d usually be through ginning between Christmas and the first of the year. So we were really only two to three weeks late.”

The difficulty for the gin, Bullard said, came when trying to pick up modules.

“We had to pick and choose how we routed our trucks,” he explained. “If modules were on the road or in the field, it made a difference. If they were out in the field, sometimes we had to let them sit for a while.” ■

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