Drought continues across the Southeast, resulting in a mixed situation for farmers. The dry weather is good for harvest but bad for finishing out crops like cotton. Some livestock producers now deal with reduced water supplies, and low soil moisture hurts prospects for fall-planted crops.
"It has aided harvest of our cotton that was planted earlier and is further along, allowing us to get the crop out of the field without fiber quality losses,” says Don Shurley, Georgia Extension economist for cotton.
"But on our later cotton, we're concerned with maturing the top part of the plant so we can defoliate and get the harvest started. If we don't get rain on that later-maturing crop, which still has a month or so to go before we even defoliate, the dry weather will still hurt it.”
Georgia's cotton dropped to 900,000 acres this year, down from just over a million last year and 1.4 million two years ago. That meant more of the crop was planted in a timely manner, getting a jump on the driest weather.
"It looks like getting the crop in a little earlier than we're used to seeing it helped us harvest a little earlier than normal. We're already seeing modules out in the fields,” Shurley says.
Tropical Storm Fay brought much-needed rains to the Southeast in August. September turned extremely dry, however. Just about all of Georgia now faces drought or abnormally dry conditions, says David Stooksbury, Georgia state climatologist.
He's most concerned about stream flow and soil moisture. Reservoirs have dropped significantly, as have farm ponds.
"Beef and dairy producers are having to move cattle for drinking water purposes or find alternative water sources,” Stooksbury says
"Low soil moisture in the fall can be good for harvesting some crops. But not all farmers benefit from the dry conditions. The dry weather will likely prevent some from getting another cutting of hay. It will also inhibit the planting of small grains and overseeding of pastures.”
No help is on the horizon. "The probability for meaningful drought relief over the next couple of weeks is low. October is still in the tropical storm season. But the likelihood of tropical weather impacting Georgia diminishes rapidly as the month progresses,” Stooksbury says.