Panhandle-area Extension agents work to help flood-damaged and delayed growers
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida IFAS Extension officials in the state’s Panhandle were working quickly Friday to help agricultural producers harmed by torrential rains earlier in the week.
In northern Escambia County, where much of the county’s agricultural production is based, wind and rain had caused some wheat to fall over, but as of Wednesday afternoon, growers weren’t yet convinced it would cause significant yield reduction, said Libbie Johnson, the county’s Extension agent specializing in agriculture and natural resources.
Northern Okaloosa County growers reported receiving between 10 and 19 inches of rain during the Tuesday night-to-Wednesday morning storms, said Okaloosa County UF/IFAS Extension agent Jennifer Bearden, and that the biggest damages were in erosion and nutrient leaching.
Most of the corn there was expected to be lost to erosion and standing water, though wheat plantings fared better with less lodging than expected, she said. Strawberries were already stressed and will be further affected, she noted.
The biggest problem overall, the region’s UF/IFAS Extension officials reported, is that the rain compounded the existing issue of delayed spring planting. Cold, wet ground that wasn’t ready to support crops was drenched yet again, meaning growers still cannot get into fields to prepare the ground, delaying corn, peanut and cotton crops.
In Jackson County, County Extension Director Doug Mayo said delayed production was the biggest problem there, as well.
April brought between 18 and 20 inches of rain to Jackson County, which is above average. But because of the rain’s timing throughout the month, there was never time for fields to dry out so growers could prepare for planting before the rains hit again, he said.
“We’ve just stayed in flux,” Mayo said. “And it’s delayed everything.”
Mayo was still gathering information from growers late in the week and said he expected U.S. Department of Agriculture officials to soon seek an emergency declaration.
Meanwhile, as Escambia County officials dealt with closed schools and an explosion in the county jail, the county’s UF/IFAS Extension office was flooded and phones weren’t working, Escambia County UF/IFAS Extension Director Pam Allen said, with personnel working Thursday to move valuable items to dryer ground and remove ruined carpet.
Later Thursday, she told UF/IFAS officials that Escambia Extension personnel will need to move for as long as two months to accommodate needed repairs.
At the West Florida Research and Education Center in Milton and Jay, new Director Wes Wood said his biggest immediate headache was ensuring that UF students at the Milton center graduate on schedule.
At the Jay research center, he said officials would likely need to replant corn.
Writer: Mickie Anderson, 352-273-3566, firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo cutline: A flooded field of mowed corn in northern ESscambia County. Panhandle-area UF/IFAS Extension agents say heavy rains have kept agricultural producers from planting on time, and that situation grew worse with heavy storms that hit Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Submitted photo courtesy of UF/IFAS Extension agent Libbie Johnson.