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Agent: Spring crop planting best in years

Steady rains have replenished ground water levels

            Things are looking up for area farmers. The ground water level is back at a decent level, rain showers have been frequent visitors, and farmers are gearing up for what they hope will be a recovery season after several years of drought.

            Bulloch County Extension Agent Wes Harris said conditions are prime for planting.

            "We're in as good a shape as we've been in a long time," he said. "Ground water has recovered, and we can withstand some dry spells. We're really fortunate that ponds have filled back up, for irrigation purposes, and that's real good news. We just hope it keeps coming."

            Last year farmers were hopeful for a decent crop, but a hard freeze in early spring did a great deal of damage.

            "We dodged the bullet," Harris said, referring to a freeze earlier this month in regions north of the Bulloch County area.

            Wheat will be harvested in May and the crop looks well, he said.

            "Corn looks real good right now... and we're still planting some," he said. Some new hybrid varieties can be planted and harvested later and some farmers are trying those new types.

            With the frequent showers that have fallen in the area lately, cotton farmers will be planting that crop soon as well, he said. The fields should be full as frmers also get under way with planting peanuts in May, as well as soybeans. "We have a few (farmers who have planted soybeans) already."

            Some crops, such as strawberries, are appearing already and should be in full swing by May. The fields should be showing green with the promise of new crops forthcoming, Harris said.

            But while the conditions are right and the demand is still high, frmers aren't planting as much corn as last year, mainly due to high fuel and fertilizer prices. Corn requires more attention, meaning more fuel used, and more nitrogen than other crops.

            "There has been a little bit of a shift," he said. "Corn is a very strong user of nutrients."

            The cost of growing corn has risen exponentially, more than 300 percent in some cases, he said.

            Soybeans are cheaper to grow. "They don't require nearly as much, and that is a little advantage over corn," he said. "Corn requires a lot of hauling if the crop is good, which adds to the diesel cost."

            Peanuts will be a major crop this year of the weather holds, because more farmers are planting the legumes. "Peanut contracts are the highest we've ever seen since the 2002 Farm Bill," he said. "And peanuts require very little fertilizer."

            Hay and pasture, which have been a thorn in cattle growers' sides for the past several years, should see an upswing as well if the weather holds and rain continues to fall. Harris predicted prices for hay may drop but producers should be able to make it up in volume, as neighboring states, which are still in drought conditions, will still provide a demand.

            A "roller coaster" winter, with temperatures fluctuating, has caused grass to be slow in growing, but " the subsoil moisture makes a lot of difference" and pastures should begin to bloom with new growth, Harris said. "We should get a fairly decent first cutting, which we haven't had in five years."

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