Outlook good for Pike County harvest

Published 3:00 am Friday, September 4, 2015

For Jeff Knotts it’s road-riding time.

Knotts, USDA county executive director for Pike and Bullock counties, likes to get out in the countryside about once a week now to see how the crops are looking as harvest time nears.

“On the whole, the cotton and peanuts are looking good, and most farmers tell me the dry land corn in turning out okay,” he said. “We got scattered showers that helped most of the row crops. If anything has suffered some, it’s the pasture land where cows are grazing. We just haven’t gotten enough rain for grass to grow back sufficiently when it’s grazed.”

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Pike County farmers planted about 3,000 acres of peanuts this year, which is about the number of acres planted in recent years. However, back in the 1990s, Knotts said local farmers planted around 22,000 acres of peanuts.

“The counties around Pike County used to plant a lot of peanuts, but most of that peanut production has moved south, down around Mobile and Baldwin counties,” Knotts said. “Those counties didn’t used to grow many peanuts but, with showers coming off the Gulf, farmers get adequate rainfall for growing peanuts. And they’ve got sandy soil that’s good for growing peanuts. In Mobile and Baldwin counties, farmers are making three to four tons an acre and that’s a good yield.”

Knott said the trend in local farming is to plant fewer peanuts. Unless, somebody starts paying a good price for peanuts, they probably will slowly move out of Pike County.”

About 3,400 acres of cotton were planted in Pike County this year and that’s about the same number as last year, Knotts said and there’s a lot less cotton planted today than it was just a few years ago.

“So many people are planting pine trees now and that’s taken a lot of land out of crop production. And, too, there aren’t nearly as many row crop farmers as there used to be.”

Knotts said there are less then 10 young farmers in Pike County and he’s talking about people under 50 years old.

“As older farmers are getting out of the business, unless there’s a younger person who wants to take over the family farm, that farming generation ends there,” he said.

Knotts said he expects to see more corn, wheat and oats grown in Pike County in the coming years.

“Cattle prices are good and chicken is a popular and affordable meat,” he said.

“The number of poultry farms is increasing and cattle prices are good and holding their own. So, the market looks good for grain products for feed.

“Corn grown locally has a ready market within 25 miles with Wayne Farms so that’s incentive for farmers to plant more corn.”

Knotts said some people are turning to home gardening for their produce and many people are buying more vegetables and fruits from local producers.

“There’s more to growing your own vegetables than putting a seed in the ground, so some home gardeners are deciding they would rather get their vegetables from the grocery store,” he said. “Most of the home gardeners who stick with it are the ones who just enjoy getting their hands in the dirt or use gardening as a good stress reliever.”

Whether it’s cotton, peanuts, corn, wheat or lettuce and tomatoes, Knotts said Pike County will always remain true to its agricultural heritage.