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Weather Woes Plague Winter Wheat Planting

By Marlee Moore
As another week passes with limited to no rain in Alabama, what began as a summer drought is affecting fall planting for farmers, especially those whose crop rotations include winter wheat.
In Cherokee County, Nick McMichen ordinarily plants 800 acres of wheat and 1,200 acres of rye as cover crops after harvesting corn and cotton. The deadline to plant insured wheat was Nov. 20, but dry soil has stopped McMichen from getting wheat in the ground.
“We’re not going to plant any cover crop until we get moisture,” McMichen said. “And even then, we’re going to make sure we have follow-up rain in the forecast.”
Ideally, McMichen would start planting wheat after corn harvest in September. Further south, wheat is ideally planted by Thanksgiving to allow root systems to establish before freezing temperatures sets in, said Coffee County farmer Max Bozeman.
“If we got a good rain now, we might plant part of our wheat, but we wouldn’t plant all of it,” Bozeman said. “It would take three weeks, up to Christmas, to get it all planted by myself. And if the weather turns cold and wet, the wheat sits there till next March before it grows.”
Bozeman’s farm saw its last shower – half an inch – Sept. 17. In addition to winter wheat woes, Bozeman is burning about $1,000 weekly in fuel to irrigate 160 acres of grazing pasture.
“We’ll likely have to buy our wheat seed next year instead of having it already,” Bozeman said. “If we do get moisture, we’ll plant a good bit of that land in grain sorghum next summer for silage to chop for cows.”
Brian Glenn’s Lawrence County farm received 0.2 inches of rain Nov. 18 – the first measurable shower in 10 weeks. Glenn planted wheat earlier this fall, but said the slight rain may cause more problems.
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