As the fall days roll by, one thing is not falling in the Bulloch County area: rain.
As a result of an extended period of extremely dry weather, Bulloch County farmers are finding themselves battling drought conditions at a critical time — the harvest.
“We’re exceptionally dry. It’s harvest season and we’re trying to finish some of these crops out, and the dry weather is taking its toll,” said Bulloch County Extension Coordinator Bill Tyson.
Tyson said that a few showers over the past weekend were welcome, but not substantial.
“We did get a little rain this past weekend. Some folks got some rain, and some folks didn’t get any.”
According to the latest available information from the United States Drought Monitor dated Oct. 1, Bulloch County is suffering from moderate to severe drought conditions.
Right now the crops most affected by the lack of rain are cotton, soybeans and peanuts.
And those crops are part of an essential element of the area economy, as agriculture accounted for approximately $150 million in Bulloch County in the latest available data from the 2018 farm gate value estimates, provided by the Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development from the University of Georgia.
“It’s been really tough in spots,” said Brooklet farmer David Cromley. “We’ve gotten some rain in some spots at critical times, but we’ve also missed some critical rain. You can definitely tell. Where we’ve been harvesting cotton and peanuts, it’s not measuring up to what we expected.”
Plowing peanuts a problem
In 2018, about 20,000 acres of peanuts valued at $18 million were planted in Bulloch County, according to Tyson.
And Cromley said harvesting the 2019 peanut crop has been particularly difficult.
“Digging peanuts was a lot more of a challenge because we had a situation where we had peanuts that needed to be dug, but the ground was so hard and dry that we were burning through plow points,” he said.
But Cromley said there was no other option than to dig through the “concrete” the ground has become as a result of the lack of moisture.
“We were able to get them, but there were some that fell off. We just needed to get them up or lose all yield potential, and the yield potentials were already depressed,” he said.
“Some places, it was like trying to dig them out of a parking lot. It was really hard on our equipment.”
Wade Hodges, who farms all over Bulloch County but is based near Middleground, echoed Cromley’s thoughts about the 2019 peanut crop.
“We try to dig peanuts, and on our side of town, the ground gets real hard and it’s hard to get them dug,” he said. “We used a lot of plow points trying to get them up, and that costs us a lot more money.”
Concerning the drought in general, Hodges said this year is particularly difficult.
“It’s pretty bad. It’s about as bad as I’ve ever seen it, to be honest with you,” he said.
“Just nothing works when it’s this dry. That’s the bottom line. It’s pretty bad.”
Tyson said the lack of rainfall isn’t just confined to the past couple of months.
“I was looking back, and the last time we got considerable rain would have been the first couple of days of September. But, you know, so much of the county has been exceptionally dry since late June, early July,” he said.
Cattle farmers feeling effects
Cattle farmers are also feeling the impacts.
Tyson said the number of cattle in Bulloch County is close to 12,000 and those cattle are valued at near $7 million, and the lack of rainfall has accelerated the feeding schedules for the cows.
“Cattle are having to be fed hay that we generally start feeding during the winter months,” Tyson said. “We’ve been delayed from planting grazing forage. Generally, this time of year we begin to plant some winter forage for them, but you just can’t plant it when you don’t have any moisture for the seeds to germinate.”
Cromley, who also raises cattle, said that lack of grazing forage is problematic for farmers this time of year.
“On the cow side, our grass has gotten very short as well, and we’ve had to start feeding hay a lot earlier than we typically would because the grass needs rain just like these crops do,” he said.
“That’s going to impact farmers’ bottom line even if you don’t have row crops. You’re having to buy hay or buy more feed,” Cromley said.
“Whenever you have weather this dry, we’re going to be planting our rye and clover later than we would like to because of the drought conditions, which means that feed availability would be later in the winter, if we get to plant it,” he said. “That’s assuming we’ll get a rain that we can get in there and plant behind and have good moisture.”
The cotton crop is also suffering from the drought conditions. In 2018, Bulloch County planted about 50,000 acres of cotton valued at $28 million.
“The defoliation on the cotton doesn’t work very good” because of the drought, Hodges said. “The plants basically pretty much shut down.”
“We’ve had some years where it’s been extremely wet that’s impacted yields, and we’ve had years where it’s extremely dry,” Cromley said. “You can’t get worked up over one or the other; you just have to trust that the Lord knows what he’s doing.
“You don’t get so wound up about swings in the weather. But definitely, if you have several years that are bad back-to-back, then you get nervous about the future of your farm and being able to sustain it for another generation.”