The weather of 2017 impacting local farmers

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By: Charles Roop | WCTV Eyewitness News
December 27, 2017

MONTICELLO, Fla. (WCTV) — Ernest Fulford opens the door of his cotton picker, displaying the many spindles. He would normally be wrapping up his cotton harvesting. But with the weather gloomy, cold, and damp, it wasn’t great.

“We were getting ready to get started and we're like 'oh, come on,’” Ernest Fulford said right before shutting the door.

Fulford is a cotton and peanut farmer, but he has grown soybean and green peanuts. His family purchased the land a few miles north of Monticello in 1945. Ernest was outside with his son, Clay, hoping to do some work. But Mother Nature hasn’t been cooperating with his plans to harvest the cotton crop.

"I need five good running days to finish,” Clay said after his father asked how much time he needed to complete the cotton harvest.

The harvest was supposed to be complete, but the cold and damp weather persists. But the blues hasn’t been the only thing keeping the John Deere parked. Hurricane Irma made landfall this past September. It caused damage to his cotton crop, but it didn't flatten the cotton as much as Hurricane Hermine just one year before. Hermine fattened the crop, making it difficult to harvest.

“[Hurricane Irma] must have shut the whole cotton plant down, the leaves fell off,” Ernest said.

The damage decreased the grade of the cotton. And now with harvests delayed, there’s an impact on the yield.

"This year, our average is looking about 600 to 650 - sometimes 700 pounds,” Ernest said. “And that's well below our 12- to 13-hundred pounds we are used to."

He said the drier weather that many have been experiencing in the Big Bend and South Georgia has not been impacting his operation, but there’s a chance it could impact the planting of the crop. But the damage from the two hurricanes in the last two years is making an impact.

"This is definitely hurting me,” Ernest said.

The year 2017 is closing out as one of the warmest on record in Tallahassee. With five days left in the year, Tallahassee’s yearly average temperature is above 70 degrees for the third year in a row. If it holds, it could be the third warmest on record.

Rainfall has been an issue for many locations in the Big Bend and South Georgia. Year to date (as of 5:30 pm Wednesday), Tallahassee has a deficit of close to 4 inches according to the National Weather Service. Apalachicola is in much worse shape with an 11.52-inch deficit, and Valdosta is approaching a deficit of 10 inches.

The Drought Monitor also has the eastern Big Bend and most of our South Georgia counties under moderate drought conditions. The rest of our area is under a “dry” classification. With a La Niña setup expected this winter, drier than average conditions are expected in our area through. The Climate Prediction Center has higher chances of below-average precipitation for Florida and parts of South Georgia from January through March.

But Ernest and Clay are fighting back. They are adding rye grass to the field, letting it grow at least six feet. They then flatten it, then plant their crop. The technique helps keep moisture in the ground. Ernest says that it can retain moisture for the crop and soil for four to five weeks, compared to a week without it.

"It just helps us to go longer in between showers without having any negative effect on our crop yield,” he said.

Ernest says that he prefers at least an inch of rain once a week, then dry conditions during harvest. But the weather usually doesn't accept specialized requests.

In the wake of six-figure losses from the two hurricanes, the Fulford farm is fighting to fight Mother Nature.