Late rains, cooler weather save most Tenn. crops


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — With most of the harvest done in Tennessee, farmers are lamenting the loss of corn but say timely rains that began midsummer saved most other crops.

Cotton is expected to finish among the best per-acre yields ever.

Richard Buntin, extension director for the University of Tennessee Extension in Crockett County, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated 861 pounds per acre.

"That would be the fourth-largest yield on record," Buntin said.

Tobacco also is strong.

Burley tobacco specialist Dr. Paul Denton, with the University of Tennessee and the University of Kentucky, said the crop was of high quality and average yield.

Denton said the prices leaf is commanding are approaching those seen before the 2004 tobacco buyout. And while floor sales quickly reflect demand, Denton said at least one tobacco company that contracts for leaf is rewriting agreements with producers to pay them more.

He explained that the burley crop fared much better than corn during a summer drought because of a fundamental difference between the crops.

"You're growing leaves, not seeds," Denton said of tobacco.

Still, he was amazed by how well burley rebounded from a deep drought in June.

Soybeans also rebounded after the rain began falling in July.

Willis Jepson and his father, William, farm about 4,000 acres around Portland near the Kentucky line. The younger Jepson said he got a soybean yield of 55 bushels per acre. The crop usually makes around 40 bushels an acre on his land.

The corn was another story. Jepson said his yield of about 50 bushels per acre was a pale shadow of usual production, around 150 bushels an acre.

The crops were insured, but he said "we'd a lot rather have a crop to sell than collect insurance."

It costs the Jepsons about $600 per acre to plant corn, and a yield of 100 bushels per acre is the break-even point.

The farm lost about $500,000 on the corn, which was their largest acreage.

Tom Womack, a spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, said the corn crop in Tennessee was the lowest in 20 years. He also said how well farmers fared depended a lot on where their fields were.

"There are a number of farmers in northwest Tennessee that never did recover from the drought," Womack said.

Cooler temperatures and timely rainfall in the latter half of summer also is helping livestock producers by keeping pastures in decent condition, Womack said.

"Livestock farmers aren't having to feed (hay) as much this year as they sometimes do," he said.

Other crops struggled with an April freeze and then a late spring drought. Womack said the loss in berries ranges from partial to complete, but irrigated berry crops fared better. Apples were somewhat smaller than usual, but also sweeter.

The freeze brought an unusual event in the vineyards — a secondary blooming.

"At harvest, some varieties had two crops on one vine," Womack said.