Calhoun Cotton Harvest

It was a year of extremes for cotton farmers in Calhoun County. At Perrow Farms, cotton was impacted by both wet and dry weather. Heavy rains drowned out emerging cotton and then an August dry spell hurt the crop as it was putting out bolls. High winds from Tropical Storm Michael ended up knocking bolls off the cotton, reducing yields.

Generous rainfall for most of the spring and summer and moderate temperatures made the 2018 growing season in Calhoun County the best farmers have seen in at least three years.

"Rainfall was generous up until August when we went through a three-week dry spell," Calhoun County Clemson Extension Agent Charles Davis said. "While it didn’t hurt us terribly, it did increase our irrigation costs and probably cost us a bit of yield."

"Temperatures, while hot, were not off the charts like they had been in the past few years," he said. "There were very few 100-degree days, but there were plenty of 92-degree days with very warm nights, which can be stressful to plants."

Cameron farmer Drake Perrow said 2018 was a "year to remember." Perrow owns Perrow Farms with Moss, Stewart and John Perrow.

"This year has been a year of extremes," said Perrow, who grew cotton and peanuts. "Either we have been real wet or real dry."

"Planting season started off pretty well, but then after two weeks, the weather turned off very dry," he said. "Many of us had to stop planting due to the dry soil conditions. Then after a period of two weeks, we finally got back in the fields."

"During those two weeks of not planting, we received some heavy rains that really hurt emerging cotton and peanuts," Perrow said. "Some fields had to be replanted due to drown-out and some fields never did recover like they should have."

He said June and July were fairly typical but August brought dry conditions.

"We went three weeks with little to no rain. This hurt our crop as cotton was filling out bolls and peanuts were putting on nuts and filling out also," Perrow said.

Then the hurricanes -- Florence and Michael -- arrived with high winds.

Overview

"Agriculture is the driving force of the local economy in Calhoun County," Davis said. "Crop revenue pumps an estimated $40 million into the local economy, not to mention farm wages, three cotton gins, one large greenhouse operation, one large tractor dealership, one agricultural chemical company, beef cattle, poultry houses and a lumber mill. If it grows, it is important in Calhoun County."

According to the latest 2012 Census of Agriculture data, Calhoun County is home to 412 farms with an average farm size of 287 acres.

The number of farms in the county has increased from 341 in the 2007 census, though the average farm size has decreased from 324 acres in 2007.

The numbers are part of a decade-long trend of smaller farm sizes.

The total land farmed was 118,382 acres, up from 110,525 acres.

Calhoun County ranked 16th in total receipts for crops and livestock in the state.

The county ranks second in cotton production and second in peanut production in the state, Davis said.

Crops brought in a total of $55.4 million (seventh in the state), and livestock brought in $24.2 million (22nd in the state).

Agricultural census data is taken every five years.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service will mail questionnaires for the 2018 Census of Agriculture to farm and ranch operators in December 2018 to collect data for this calendar year.

NASS plans to release Census of Agriculture data, in both electronic and print formats, beginning in February 2019. Detailed reports will be published for all counties, states and the nation.

Corn

About 8,000 acres of corn were planted across Calhoun County in 2018 with average dryland yields of 40 bushels an acre on sandy, drought stressed fields to 150 bushels on heavier land that received timely rains. Farmers would like to see dryland yields about 90 to 100 bushels, Davis said.

Irrigated corn saw an average of 175 bushels per acre, down from the desired 200 bushels, he said.

Davis said lots of rainfall early helped corn get off to a good start.

"Dryland corn was happy until the August dry spell," the agent said. "The three-week absence of rainfall probably affected corn more than any other crop. Fortunately, it came in August and not in July, as the results would have been much worse."

The corn crop did not experience any out of the ordinary insect issues, but Davis said disease pressure was pretty high from gray leaf spot."

Though corn saw a fairly good year in terms of yields, Davis said prices are poor. December corn futures have the crop selling for $3.75 a bushel.

"Based on Clemson’s Irrigated Corn production budget, the break-even price for corn would need to be $4.70 per bushel with a 200 bushel yield, so above $5," he said.

Peanuts

A total of 8,000 acres of peanuts were planted in Calhoun County in 2018.

Though it was still too early to determine yield totals for peanuts through the middle of October, Davis predicts about 3,500 pounds per acre for dryland and 4,000 pounds for irrigated. Farmers typically like to see about 4,000 pounds on dryland and 5,000 pounds on irrigated.

"Peanuts are pretty drought tolerant so the August dry spell didn’t affect peanuts very badly," he said.

The peanut crop benefited from a good growing season "with few very hot days," Davis said.

At Perrow Farms, about 900 acres of peanuts were planted.

"Rainfall helped weed control and crop progress," Davis said.

Some varieties of peanuts did suffer late leaf spot, but in resistant varieties it was not an issue at all, he said.

"We saw a lot of Tomato Spotted Wilt this year, and in some fields it appeared to be very bad," he said. "Too early to tell if it hurt yields across the county, but in some fields it certainly was a limiting yield factor. Late Leaf Spot caused us to rush the harvest of some Virginia varieties, which impacted yield."

The county's acreage of peanuts dropped from 11,000 acres to 8,000 acres due mainly to low contract prices.

"Peanut contracts were very disappointing this year as we received only $400 to $425 for a ton," Perrow said. "At those prices, it takes about 2 tons per acre to make a profit."

Farmers would like to see peanuts in the $600 per ton range to break even.

Cotton

Cotton in 2018 was a tale of two sides to one storm: before Tropical Storm Michael and after Michael.

The storm, which brought about two to four inches of rainfall and wind gusts into the 50-mile-per-hour range, impacted cotton yields.

At the time of this writing, harvest was just beginning for cotton, but Davis said some generalities can be made.

"The general sense is that we had a 2-bale crop going into Hurricane Michael (1,000-pounds per acre) and we came out of Michael with 800 pounds," he said. "Yields for both irrigated and dryland were comparable this year in most fields."

"Farmers always want more yield, but in general I think most were pleased with the crop before the storm," Davis continued. "There are fields of 1,500 pound cotton out there. They are the exception rather than the rule, so most farmers would like to see 1,500 pounds become the norm."

Despite Michael, Mother Nature provided limited stress from drought and heat, which helped the cotton crop.

About 26,000 acres of cotton were planted countywide.

Perrow planted about 1,500 acres of cotton with hopes of getting 2 bales to 2-1/2 bales of cotton.

"The grades on most of this is not up to par due to the two hurricanes that brought cloudy, misty conditions as the cotton was open," the farmer said.

Another challenge for cotton growers in 2018 has been increasing resistance of bollworm to the insecticides and to the Bt genes inserted in the cotton plant to defend against the worms.

"We participated in several studies trying to verify this potential problem," Davis said. "Stinkbugs are always a pest on cotton that causes us to lose sleep."

"This year we saw a new disease in cotton (for this area) called Aerolate Mildew, or False Mildew," he said.  "It will defoliate the leaves that it gets established on. We are not sure yet if it caused us much yield loss and in some cases of rank cotton, which is where it thrives, it may have helped air out our cotton fields and prevent boll rot."

Davis said forward contracted cotton, which is the norm, was priced in the 70 to 80 cent range. Cotton in the middle of October was close to 78 cents.

"The break-even price on 1,000 percent cotton is around 76 cents," Davis said. "Farmers need 90 cent cotton to have a chance to make any money on the crop."

Soybeans 

A total of 1,400 acres of soybeans were planted across the county. As of this writing, the crop had yet to be harvested.

Davis says farmers like to see between 40 bushels dryland and 60 to 70 bushels on irrigated land.

Mother Nature has been kind to soybeans even though the August dry spell and some stress from Michael did hurt the crop. 

"Worm pressure got a bit high toward the end of the season," Davis said, noting stinkbugs were also a problem.

Soybean prices were around $9 per bushel on the futures contract for November.

"Given our traditionally low yields of around 35 bushels per acre, break-even price for all costs would be $15.62," Davis said.

"With prices less than $9, it is easy to see why we only have a couple of thousand acres in Calhoun County."

Wheat

The wheat year was bad through and through.

"There were bad stands, cold temperatures and poor weather," Davis said.

Less than 1,000 acres of wheat were planted in the county this year with yields in the 40- to 60-bushel range.

This is below the 90 bushels per acre farmers would like to see, Davis said.

Wheat prices have been low as well.

"Barely over $5 today for December wheat," Davis said. "The break-even price on 65-bushel wheat is $7.24" meaning growers would like to see this amount and more for the crop.

Fruits and vegetables

Cameron row crop and fruit and vegetable farmer Josh Johnson has about 33 acres of produce, of which 20 acres were butter beans, 10 acres were peas and three acres were edamame. The crops were a mixture of irrigated and dryland. 

Johnson farms with his father-in-law Bates Houck.

Mother Nature was fickle for the butter beans.

"Butter bean yields were very poor," Johnson said. "We had flood, a drought and then a flood."

He said the early planting of the crop in April had about 4 inches of rainfall when the crop was just inches tall.

"I replanted it and right when it was setting fruit, it was 105 degrees in July," Johnson said. "It did not make much."

"It was replanted again and we got 4 inches of rain, and it did not germinate much," he said.

Yields were about 15 bushels per acre compared to the preferred 80 bushels per acre.

The positive on butter beans is the stable price.

"No one in the Southeast made any butter beans so prices are up by about 20 percent," Johnson said. "There was not any to be had."

He said the later planted peas did very well with yields coming in at about 80 bushels per acre.

"They can handle the dry weather better for some reason," he said.

Edamame was hurt by dry weather in August, resulting in a reduction in yields of about 600 pounds to an acre.

"Normally, we get a thousand pounds to an acre," Johnson said.

Prices on peas and edamame was steady, he said.

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Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Follow on Twitter @ZaleskiTD.

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Staff Writer

Gene Zaleski is a reporter/staff writer with The Times and Democrat.

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