If you took all the rain that fell on Tennessee on May 1 and spread it over the dry parts of the south Delta, most farmers in the region would be very happy with their moisture levels.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature doesn’t work like that. She prefers extremes.
(See more about dry weather in Louisiana at Louisiana cotton, corn need rain).
One example was the 14 inches of rain that pummeled the north Delta on May 1. Numerous west Tennessee cities and roads flooded, forcing people from their homes, washing out bridges, taking lives and turning the city of Nashville into a lake of mud.
Somehow most crops and cropland in west Tennessee dodged the bullet, although planting has slowed to a crawl, and some equipment remains stuck in bottomland fields. As much as 200,000 acres of north Delta cropland were still underwater as mid-May approached as usually reliable waterways remain backed up and water simply had no place to go.
West Tennessee Extension cotton specialist Chris Main noted, “We have a backlog of water that is falling very slowly. We’re backed up from the Mississippi River all the way to Jackson, Tenn. Most of the roads are passable now for the most part, but a lot of fields still have 3 or 4 feet of water on top of them.”
If fields remain soaked, Main says, 45,000 acres to 60,000 acres could shift from cotton to soybeans. “The ground under water in the Lauderdale County bottom and by the Mississippi River was going to go back to cotton this year. If the Mississippi doesn’t start draining pretty soon, it’s going to go back to soybeans for the third straight year.
“There’s still a chance it could be planted to cotton,” Main said. “Once the water gets back into the stream banks, that ground will dry out pretty quick.”
USDA is reporting that west Tennessee cotton is 14 percent planted for the week ending May 9. “I haven’t heard of any losses in cotton due to flooding, or of any replants yet.”
Meanwhile, the state’s wheat crop “looks really good,” Main said. “It would be great if we could get the sun to come back out. But overall, I’d say we have the best looking wheat crop we’ve had since 2006.”
Main says west Tennessee producers have avoided property and equipment losses for the most part. “We’re usually adept at moving equipment out when the water gets high. It’s mostly just slowed everybody down and pushed us toward another late planting year. Sunshine in the mid-80s to low 90s for a few days, and getting that river down another 5 to 6 feet will put us in good shape.”
Most of west Tennessee’s corn crop escaped the wrath of the floods as well, according to Angela McClure, Extension corn and soybean specialist with the University of Tennessee. “We’re estimating that 15,000 acres to 20,000 acres that did go underwater “could go back into soybeans if producers can work it out with crop insurance. Those crops have had water on them for 10 days or more.”
Corn that had emerged when the rains hit could need another shot of nitrogen, McClure said. “Most everybody had put some nitrogen down at planting, but they’re going to go back with a sidedress application to account for the losses. Some areas had 4 to 5 inches of rain, others had as much as 14 inches.”
McClure said so far, the crop losses from the flooding “aren’t as severe as they were last year. Last year, we had continuous rain, cold temperatures and we had seed that rotted in the ground because it was waterlogged and never got warm enough to germinate. Then they couldn’t get in to replant in a timely manner, and everything got late. Or we had corn that had emerged, but it rained and rained, with no drying time. This year, we got a big rain, but it came and went. We had some warm weather after it and some drying time.”
While the second week in May was bringing cooler temperatures to west Tennessee, McClure isn’t concerned about its effect on corn. “Corn is pretty tolerant to cooler temperatures. It’s not going to grow off as quickly. Soybeans don’t like the cool weather, but we didn’t have a lot of soybeans planted.”
According to USDA’s Crop Progress report, 88 percent of Tennessee corn crop had been planted by May 9. That’s 13 percent above last year’s pace and 1 percent above the five-year average.
Senath, Mo., cotton producer Charles Parker says the area around his farm received only 3 inches of rain on May 1, enabling him to continue cotton planting cotton a few days later. He started on April 28, stopped on May 1, then resumed on Wednesday, May 5. As of May 12, Parker had planted about two-thirds of his cotton acres. “Most of the cotton in our area has been planted. We’re in pretty good shape. We need a dry spell to finish up. Give us three or four more days and it will all be planted.”