Preparing for an El Niño Winter

Preparing for an El Niño Winter

Farmers in the Western Panhandle are in agreement — dry weather is needed to get the crops out to gins and buying points.  Currently, climatologists are predicting a 62% chance of experiencing El Niño conditions for the next 3 months.

What does that mean to a farmer in Northwest Florida? 

According to the fact-sheet  El Niño, La Niña and Climate Impacts on Agriculture: Southeastern U.S., these are potential issues:

  • Harvests of summer crops such as corn, peanuts, and cotton may be delayed because of increased rains in the fall.
  • Frequent rains may reduce tilling and yield of winter wheat.
  • Wheat yields in southern AL and GA are generally higher than average during El Niño.
  • Frequent rains at the end of August and in early September may increase Hessian fly populations on winter wheat.
  • Susceptible and moderate peanut cultivars have higher intensity of tomato spotted wilt virus.
  • Yields of winter vegetables such as tomatoes, bell peppers, sweet corn, and snap beans are lower.
  • Fungal and bacterial diseases, especially bacterial spot of tomato and bell peppers, present higher risks.
  • Winter pasture crops may benefit from wetter weather, but planting and harvesting operations may be affected by heavy rainfall.
  • Growers may have to reduce the dormancy compensating sprays to temperature fruits, such as peach, nectarine, blueberry, and strawberry because of increases in chill accumulation.
  • Strawberry growth is slower than normal. Risk of fungal diseases such as anthracnose, botrytis fruit rot, and angular leaf spot is higher.
  • This may very well be a good year to plant winter forage and cover crops because they are predicting enough moisture to get fields established.  To learn more about the benefits of utilizing cover crops to mitigate risk, please see this publication about high residue cover crops.

Cereal rye cover crop rolling/crimping in late March 2011 at Brock Farm in Monticello, Florida. Custom roller/crimper design and fabrication by Kirk Brock.

Tropical Storm Gordon’s Impact on Cotton and Peanuts in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties

Tropical Storm Gordon’s Impact on Cotton and Peanuts in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties

Cotton laid down in the field by Tropical Storm Gordon.

For most row crop growers in Florida, Tropical Storm Gordon had minimal impact.  However, in the westernmost part of the state, much of the cotton suffered significant damage.  Though the winds were not extremely strong, the combination of saturated soils and winds wreaked havoc on what had looked like a stellar cotton crop.

The western Panhandle had been blessed with ample rains throughout the summer.  Prior to T.S. Gordon making landfall on September 3, many farmers were excited about the prospective yields for their 2018 cotton crop.  In northern Escambia County, farmers reported rainfall ranging from 7-11 inches.  Though the area did not receive a long period of high winds,  the combination of waterlogged soils and wind caused a great deal of lodging in cotton that was nearing full maturity almost ready to be defoliated.  Canopies heavy with loaded bolls and wet leaves laid down on damp soil and have not since righted their position.  The bolls touching wet ground have rotted off the plant.  The plants are matted throughout the field.   Many farmers have shared their concerns with the difficulty of defoliating a field that has cotton laying across the row middles.

Though the winds from T.S. Gordon died down within 24 hours, the rains continued.  It has continued to rain regularly since September 3rd.  Not only is the cotton worse for wear, but peanut harvest has been steadily delayed by the rains.  Greg Phillips, manager of Birdsong Peanuts-McCullough, said “Peanut harvest in the area has been greatly slowed by the rain.”  He estimates that around 7% of the entire crop has been harvested, whereas if the weather conditions had been favorable, 15% of the year’s crop would been harvested by this time.  He does report good grades so far, but he is concerned that further delays might cause a decline in both yield and grades.

The  Agroclimate image below shows the total rainfall in inches from August 13th to September 25th.  It is evident that the western Panhandle and Lower Alabama have received ample amounts of rain, but the story that it doesn’t tell is that all of this rainfall is coming at a time of year when conditions are generally starting to dry out for harvesting.

The image below from Agroclimate provides a good comparison of rainfall totals from the past 45 days to September 25.  The map of the southeast on the left shows the historical average rainfall for this time of year  The more colorful map of the southeast on the right shows the deviation from “normal” rainfall amounts.  In the case of late summer 2018, T.S. Gordon brought in much higher than average rainfall in the areas shaded in blue and purple.

It will take some time to know the full extent of the impact from T.S. Gordon.  Crop damage appears significant, but the full effects will not be known until after the completion of the 2018 crop harvest.

Alabama Forestry Field Day – November 2

Alabama Forestry Field Day – November 2

Join Alabama Cooperative Extension for the 2018 Forestry Field Day at Geneva State Forest Lake near Kinston, Alabama on Friday, November 2nd.  The following topics will be covered:

  • Logging Equipment Cleaning
  • Streamside Management Zones
  • Wild Hog Effects on Water Quality
  • Invasive Plant Management
  • Stream Crossings & Forest Roads
  • Alabama Timber Markets

Download the printer friendly flyer:  2018 AL Forestry Field Day flyer.  Lunch will be provided, but registration is required by calling (334) 684-2484. 

Directions to Geneva State Forest Lake (GPS Coordinates: 31.141655, -86.184714)

From Samson\Geneva\Dothan: Follow AL HWY 52 west from Samson (4.4 miles). Turn left onto AL HWY 54 and travel 1.4 miles. Turn right onto Forest Area Road and follow for 2.9 miles. Then turn right onto Forest Lake Road and go 1.6 miles to reach the lake.

From Andalusia\Opp: Follow the Kinston Highway\AL HWY 52 southeast from Opp (14 miles). Turn right onto AL HWY 54 and travel 1.4 miles.  Turn right onto Forest Area Road and follow for 2.9 miles. Then turn right onto Forest Lake Road and go 1.6 miles to reach the lake.

Mature Longleaf Pine habitat. Photo by Judy Biss

Suwannee Valley Watermelon Institute – November 29

Suwannee Valley Watermelon Institute – November 29

Join UF/IFAS Extension for the 2018 Suwannee Valley Watermelon Institute to be held on Thursday, November 29th at the Straughn IFAS Extension Professional Development Center (2142 Shealy Drive Gainesville, FL 32611).  For anyone that grows watermelon or cucurbits, this day-long event will be worth the drive to Gainesville.

The optional morning session will provide an in-depth review of Florida’s watermelon diseases (bacteria and virus, etc.) with focus on detection and management of new diseases, and an update on drone research for early disease and other stress detection.

After lunch, the following topics will be covered:

  • Irrigation and nutrient management BMPs for the Suwannee Valley Region and Cost Share Programs
  • Watermelon grower experiences with soil moisture sensors
  • Weed management updates, nutsedge, and brunswick grass concerns
  • Update on the Food Safety Modernization Act and new guidance on water and update regarding On-Farm Readiness review process.
  • Watermelon cultivar and fusarium trial results, and review of pollinating plant choices.
  • Watermelon disease and fungicide program planning for the 2019 season.

For more information, contact Dan Fenneman at (850) 973-4138 or by email at

Fig. 1. Symptoms of the Pseudomonas syringae leaf spot on watermelon

Identifying Harmless “False White Mold” in Peanut Fields

Identifying Harmless “False White Mold” in Peanut Fields

Photo taken by Andrew Sawyer, UGA Wilcox County Extension of false white mold.

This article is from an educational update email from Dr. Bob Kemerait, UGA Plant Pathologist.  Dr. Kemerait gave permission for Panhandle Ag to use this to share with the growers of Florida.

Andrew Sawyer, UGA Wilcox County Extension, sent me these great pictures yesterday afternoon.  They are images of what we call “false white mold” which is caused by the fungus Phanerochaete.  This is NOT the white mold, aka stem rot, that causes so much damage to our peanut crop and growers SHOULD NOT spray anything for it.  False white mold does NOT harm the plant; in fact the real damage false white mold can cause is that growers spend money unnecessarily fighting it.

Picture of false white mold, taken by Andrew Sawyer, UGA Wilcox County Extension.

False white mold is most often found in fields planted using conservation tillage, where the white fungal growth covers both the limbs of the peanut crop and the associated crop debris.  Early in its growth and development, the Phanerochaete fungus appears nearly identical to the white mold/stem rot pathogen and all-around bad guy Sclerotium rolfsii.  However, as False white mold ages it begins to turn a yellow-orange color and takes on a toothed or hairy appearance.  False white mold NEVER produces BB-sized sclerotia like Sclerotium rolfsii does.

A final difference, no lesions form beneath the fungal growth of Phanerochaete; they often form beneath the fungal growth of Sclerotium rolfsii.