Healthy harvest

Published 5:10 am Saturday, December 1, 2012

Farmers across the Atmore area are still busy harvesting several crops, but in south Alabama cotton is the main crop and new methods of baling the product are beginning to emerge in Escambia County.

In fields across the Atmore area, workers were busy early last week harvesting cotton into thick bales of creamy white.
By all accounts, yields are strong this year, but prices aren’t as high.

Ken Kelley, county extension coordinator with the Escambia County Extension Office, said this time of year people should expect to see plenty of cotton, peanuts and corn being transported throughout the county.

“The crops are mostly peanuts and cotton in this area,” Kelley said. “But we also have some corn and we’ve got a few soybeans in the area.”
Kelley said the major crop in Escambia County, cotton, has had a fairly good year so far.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“We’ve got quite a bit of cotton that’s already been harvested,” he said. “But we still have a lot to get and to get processed.”

Rene Mack, office manager at Currie Cotton Gin in McCullough, said this year’s season has been much better, so far, than last season’s production.

“Everything’s going really well,” Mack said. “The harvest is good. The yields are good.”

Mack said one factor in this year’s successful harvest season has been a lack of precipitation.

“There’s not been a lot of rain this year,” Mack said. “During the harvest you don’t want the rain so you can get the cotton out. The more rain that you have on the lint, the more it decreases the weight of the lint. That’s the white stuff on the bulbs that you want to weigh up.”

Mack said this year’s harvest has produced a better yield, but she and Kelly both said prices are still not where they would like to see them.

“Cotton has had some good yields, but cotton prices are not where they need to be,” Kelley said.

“The yields are up, but we don’t have as many cotton acres. Last year, the acreage was up but the yield was down due to the weather,” Mack said. “This year, the acres are down but the yield is up, but prices are not as high as we want. Cotton is pretty much in a world market. It’s based a lot on China and India.”

One factor making a financial difference for some local farmers over the past several seasons has been new equipment that is more efficient and reduces the need for as many workers in the fields. Mack said some of that equipment is just beginning to become common in the Escambia County area this year, adding it is very expensive, but saves farm owners money in the long run.

“They have new pickers that have just been out for a couple of years,” Mack said. “More of the larger producers are getting those. This is the first year we have had them here.”

Mack said the difference is all in the process of harvesting and bailing the cotton.

“Instead of the square bales that, normally, the picker picks and then the cotton is dumped into the modular builder, this, as you’re going through the field, it compresses the cotton and wraps it, so it eliminates the need for a tractor and labor. In the long run, if you have a lot of acres, it’s supposed to save the farmers money.”

Mack said the new process, which can be recognized by the production of round units of cotton instead of the traditional square bails, compresses around six bails into each circular unit.

But cotton is not the only crop being harvested in Escambia County this time of year. Kelley said, while cotton is generally king, peanuts and, this year, corn are both doing quite well.

“Peanut season has gone pretty well,” Kelley said. “There may be a few left to pick. Crops have done extremely well. There’s a high yield on corn. I’ve heard some numbers on corn that were just outstanding.”

As the harvest season wraps up, Kelley said most farmers will be looking to spring as a time to plant crops that will solidify their soil for next year’s season or will help maintain cattle populations.

“You have the options of wheat and a lot of guys will plant a cover crop to hold the ground,” Kelley said. “You can also plant for your cattle guys. Now’s the time the plant winter annuals – rye grass and wheat grass. Some will plant wheat and oats to harvest.”

Kelley said, although the recent lack of rain has aided farmers in harvesting, it is getting close to the time fo year when some rain will be needed.

“We’re kind of running through a dry spell, but that’s been good for getting the peanuts out,” he said. “We need some rain now, but for the most part we had an excellent picking season.”

Kelley said, more than anything, local farmers will be working to finish this year’s harvest and preparing for next year’s planting season.
“Right now, they’ll be evaluating what they’ll plant next year,” Kelley said.