Rain, Rain, go away

PLANTERSVILLE – Kenneth Oswalt stands in the sunshine, looking at the effects of weeks of rain. While some fields look healthy, bare ground stares back from some fields where corn would normally have been striping the land by now.
“There’s going to be several acres of corn that just won’t come up, and the corn that is up is going to yield 30 to 40 percent less than it normally would,” he said. “And it’s too late to replant.”
Early this week the USDA rated nearly two-fifths of Mississippi’s corn crop as poor to fair. As much as 10 inches of rain has fallen in parts of Northeast Mississippi in the past four weeks. Tupelo had 4.59 inches last week alone. “We’ve had seven inches just in May at my office,” said Dr. Bill Burdine, area extension agent IV based in Houston with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
Burdine said soybean seeds are more vulnerable to disease in cool, damp soils than corn, so beans – the state’s No. 1 rowcrop – are suffering more damage.
Rain has also put planting behind schedule. More than 80 percent of the state’s soybeans would normally have been planted by now, but only 62 percent had been as of Sunday. Only 45 percent of cotton has been planted, compared to 60 percent usually.
Burdine estimated that Northeast Mississippi farmers have cut their cotton acreage by 75 to 80 percent since four years ago, largely because of low prices from overseas competition. For those still planning to raise cotton this year, the wet soils are narrowing their window of opportunity.
“We are on a complete standstill in most of north Mississippi,” Burdine said. “Lots of rain means cooler soils, and that means the seeds can sit there and rot.”
It’s not just planting that’s impacted. Charlie Stokes, area extension agent II with MSU Extension in Aberdeen, added, “A lot of corn needs to get the sidedress nitrogen on it, and we’ve got weed problems that we can’t address until it dries up.”
Vegetable farmers, whose crop cycles are typically shorter, may be even more impacted than some row-crop farmers. Van Cheeseman, a Benton County grower who sells most of his vegetables and flowers at a farmers’ market in Memphis, said he’s running low on products to offer his customers.
“I’ve got a whole lot that I haven’t planted. There are a lot of tomatoes just sitting there in packs,” he said. “I’m down to onions and garlic, mostly, and shiitake mushrooms, which are grown inside.”
Linda Boyd, a vegetable grower from Oxford, said the spring has really afforded only about two weeks suitable for working the soil.
“There’s an incredible amount of weeds that are taking over everything,” she said. “In the heirloom tomatoes I’ve planted, it’s been too muddy to even get in to take care of them.” Her salvation, she said, is almost 4,000 square feet of “high tunnels,” or unheated greenhouses, in which she’s now growing tomatoes, cucumbers and green beans.
Aileen Bost’s family had a strawberry crop that promised to bear through most of this month, but incessant rains caused most of them to mold in the past two weeks.
“We lost bushels of strawberries,” the Water Valley farmer said. One narrow window of opportunity, however, provided for the thousands of tomato seedlings her family plants.
“We had two days that it was dry back earlier, and we were able to get most of our tomatoes out,” Bost said. “Peppers and eggplants we’ve just had to ‘muddy’ in.”
Yesterday’s sunshine was a welcome change, but the National Weather Service forecasts several days of significant chances of rain for Tupelo over the next week.
“I think the pattern will still be typical of springtime for a while,” said NWS-Memphis meteorologist Jonathan Howell. “We’re still going to have some frontal boundaries moving through the area, and that’s going to give us more opportunities for rain.”
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@djournal.com.


Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

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