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Weeds challenge farmers for crops

By By Connie Nowlin
Managing Editor
It seems like it is always feast or famine for farmers. Last year it was drier than needed to make the cotton crop, then too wet to harvest it.
This year there has been enough water to make the cotton begin blooming on schedule, but getting into the fields for weed control is dicey at best.
"It's wet and the weeds are bad," said Buck Farrior, Escambia County extension coordinator.
"Of course, it is variable, but on the broad scale, field operations are behind, especially weed control."
The weeds are getting ahead of the farmers because many fields are too wet for ground equipment. Those weeds may be attacked by spray, because of genetic advances in cotton.
Basically, Farrior said, the crop is resistant to chemicals, such as Roundup, that would have killed it just a few years ago. There is also a strain of cotton that is resistant to some insects, with a toxin specific to the bugs in the genetic code of the plant.
At the same time, though, the weeds are also getting ahead of the peanut crop.
"Chemical options for weed control in peanuts are not as numerous as the chemical options for weed control in herbicide-resistant cotton," Farrior said. Peanut growers, then, are limited and predominantly use ground equipment to cultivate the crop, killing the weeds.
Farrior said insects are not out of hand on either of the big money crops in Escambia County.
Meanwhile, the corn crop is just about a month away from harvest, and the constant rains are a concern on it as well.
"It doesn't need any more on it, that's for sure," said Ed Nowlin, of Escambia Grain Corp. in Walnut Hill. "It could get pretty seriously damaged in a hurry now."
But there is another situation that may be more difficult to solve than rain, weeds or insects.
Last year's heavy rain during what should have been the harvest season may have damaged more than just the crops.
"It was extremely unusual, because there was a good crop early" Farrior said.
"But it deteriorated in the weather and the farmers couldn't get in the fields to harvest it. By the time they could, it was basically worthless."
There were only 10,000 bales of cotton harvested last year, contrasted to nearly 43,000 the year before, an average year.
Farrior said if the weather dries out a little, this year will make a good crop.
But some farmers are still dealing with the psychological impact from last season.
"They were looking at a good crop last year and it ruined in front of their eyes," Farrior said.
"They are still dealing with the psychological and financial impact. It takes a lot of energy to keep fighting that, keep going when they are thinking, 'Why am I doing this?'"
In the end, some growers may quit or be forced out, and cotton yields not the only things lost to the bad weather and poor harvest.