by Danield Leonard,
Calhoun County Extension Agent
As anyone who’s shared the road over last month with a cotton picker, peanut harvester, or trailer laden with crops heading for processers can attest, the 2023 Calhoun County row crop harvest season is running wide open and, for many farmers, nearing the finish line. Arriving this year with the onset of unusually cool weather, harvest time is the culmination of a full year’s worth of work and planning, when farmers reap the fruits of their labor and hope things turned out well.
While the cool and dry weather has been nice to work in, this year’s harvest has varied widely in the quality of field crops and the timeline in which they’re maturing. There were two primary drivers of variability in yield and maturation times in 2023, both weather related. While we avoided a major tropical system this year, other weather patterns weren’t as kind. The first was the heavy late spring/early summer rainy season that flooded low-lying fields and pushed yields down in those areas. The second, arguably more damaging, weather event was the ~45-day period of extreme heat and drought we all remember that occurred from late July-early September. We went for weeks at a time with daytime highs well into the 100’s and no rain, essentially causing many plants to go dormant as a defense mechanism. Even worse, this occurred during the exact time of the year that peanut plants are trying to set and fill pods and cotton is attempting to fill out bolls in the mid-upper canopy of the plant, not a good recipe for achieving high yields in our county’s mostly unirrigated fields. It wasn’t all bad though! While the hot, dry late summer weather was tough on cotton plants, it did bring some much-needed relief from the cotton boll rot we’ve experienced the last several years.
Despite these challenges, Calhoun County producers have remained positive. In conversations I’ve had with them, all have consistently said that things could have been worse, like they have been for many farmers to the west of us where conditions were even harsher, and they felt fortunate to get out of this year with a decent crop overall.
Farming is a very uncertain business and growers have little to no control over many things – weather, volatile commodity prices, persistently high input costs and interest rates, etc. But, if you know our farmers, you know that they do a consistently great job in producing crops under any conditions they face. They are a resilient and resourceful bunch and do their best to ensure that our great country has an ample and stable supply of the food and fiber we need to thrive. So, the next time you meet a cotton picker, a peanut harvester, combine, or semi-truck hauling a harvested crop on the highway, be sure to slow down and remember all that our farmers do for us.