Early start to crop year could point to profits

Early start to crop year could point to profits
By RANDALL DICKERSON
Associated Press
NASHVILLE (AP) — Record March warmth and not too much April rain have the crop year in Tennessee off to a great start. The only stinkers were overnight freezes in April that seriously damaged some grape crops and frost burned some early sweet corn.
Now, the concern is timely rainfall.
The crop report for the last week in April from the U.S. Department of Agriculture was unexpectedly good.
Corn planting was 93 percent complete statewide, compared with a five-year average of 62 percent. Nearly a quarter of farmers who cut grow hay had baled their first cutting by April 30, compared with the average of 2 percent.
Grain heads had formed on 98 percent of the winter wheat, compared with an average of 46 percent.
In his weekly report to the USDA, Warren County agricultural agent Dale Beaty wrote, “Some hay harvested, corn is basically planted except for some after spring silage. Really need rain. It’s been over a month!”
Agent John Wilson in Blount County was watching the clouds as well.
“A thundershower accompanied with light hail on Thursday brought an average of half inch of rain. Row crops and forages benefited but are in need of more as field conditions continue to rapidly dry,” Wilson wrote.
From West Tennessee, Weakley County agent Jeff Lannom said planting was moving on to soybeans.
“Corn planting has been completed this week, with a few producers having started soybean planting,” he noted. “Forage producers have taken advantage of good drying conditions in harvesting their first cutting of hay crops.”
Through April 30, rainfall was 8.15 inches behind for the year to date in Huntingdon. The deficit was 7.6 inches at Clarksville. Cleveland was off 6.06 inches. In the uplands, Greeneville had a surplus of 1.89 inches.
Much of the agent comment in the preceding week had concerned the cold snap in mid-April.
In Knox County, agent Neal Denton said winter’s reprise was tough on a burgeoning crop in the state — grapes grown by wineries.
“Freeze damage was hardest on grapes. Several producers and hobbyists have lost half of their grape crop,” reported Denton, noting the figure was from the producers.
Some have lost more.
Tennessee Deputy Agriculture Commissioner Jai Templeton said last week that the department had reports of 100 percent loss of some grape crops.
There was also some serious frost damage to early corn and it was too early to tell if the damaged plants would completely recover.
Agent Ed Burns reported from Franklin County that the plant nurseries took some light damage.
“Most nurseries reporting some foliage and blossom damage, but most are reporting emerged seedlings had little or no damage,” Burns wrote.
In the row crop plain of West Tennessee, Carroll County agent Steve Burgess noted that fertilizer dealers said ammonium nitrate was unavailable at any price because of the large increase in corn acreage.
The continued demand for corn has driven prices to historic highs. Templeton said that’s the cause of an increase in corn planting this spring.
“You’re going to see a higher planting of corn at the expense of cotton and, to a lesser extent, soybeans,” Templeton said.
He explained that planting corn has advantages beyond the current high market value. It is less expensive up front to get into the ground than cotton and it is used for both human consumption and as a feed stock in the beef cattle industry.
Templeton recently returned to Nashville from McNairy County where he has a row crop farm.
“There is a lot of optimism in the farming community,” he said. “It’s a great time to be a farmer.”
Templeton hopes strong early planting will translate into a profitable crop year, but with a farmer’s caution he keeps an eye to the sky, watching for rain.
“It’s not how much, but when we get it,” he said. “And that remains to be seen.”

Published in The Messenger 5.03.12

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