Crop yields are up

Published 8:12 am Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Despite an “extremely challenging” fall harvest, farmers in the area and throughout Virginia wound up with higher yields of all four of their primary crops, agriculture officials said last week.

“I would say the weather last year was very conducive,” said Dell Cotton, executive director of the Virginia Peanut Growers Association, based in Franklin.

“For the most part, we had a good year,” Suffolk Extension Agent Rexford Cotten said. Southampton and Isle of Wight counties don’t have extension agents. “It has been, overall, a rewarding year, and the coming year, for the most part, looks promising.”

Things did not always look so good last year, though.

When it was time to start harvesting corn and peanuts, in October, the rains began.

“In October, it’s not unusual to get a few days of rain,” said Cotten, the extension agent. “But that situation continued to linger into November — but we continued to hope.”

Fields were frequently too wet for farmers to get their equipment into without getting stuck, and just when the ground had dried out enough, it seemed, the rains came back.

Peanuts, Cotton said, weren’t as affected as other crops by last year’s wet weather.

“Right when the rains started in the fall, we had just gotten most of the peanuts out of the field. Now it probably affected cotton and soybeans much more than it did peanuts,” he said.

By the time they were to have begun the cotton and soybean harvest, farmers were dealing with saturated fields.

“There were very few days the fields were dry enough and conditions were conducive to the cotton and soybean harvest,” Cotten said.

In some cases, those fields sat for weeks — sometimes even longer — with mature cotton bolls and soybean pods just waiting to be picked. Some fields even waited until after the beginning of the new year for harvest, Cotten said.

In the end, though, yields have held up surprisingly well.

Statewide, yields per acre were higher during the latest harvest for corn, soybeans, cotton and peanuts. Peanut yields per acre set a record, but total yields were down significantly due to reduced acreage.

“There’s a combination of reasons for that, one is the weather, and you also have to throw in the fact that we don’t grow anywhere near the number of acres that we used to, so peanuts are on better land with better rotations,” Cotton, the peanut association leader, said.

While he was not prepared to give actual yield totals for the crops grown, Cotten said the numbers were good this year.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service yields across the state were as follows:

Corn — 131 bushels per acre, for 43.2 million bushels, an 18-percent increase over 2008

Soybeans — 38 bushels per acre, for 21.7 million bushels, a 19-percent increase over last year

Peanuts — 3,700 pounds per acre, for 44.4 million pounds, down 45 percent from last year

Cotton — 990 pounds per acre, for a total of 130,000 bales, making the yield per acres up 15 percent from 2008.