Regional Agronomists provide April crop updates

By on April 8, 2021

With a long, wet winter and now Easter behind us, field work and land preparation for the 2021 crop is in full swing. With the soils drying out over the past week, many acres have been tilled and/or burndown herbicides have been applied to row crop acres. There are still low-lying and/or poorly drained areas of fields that still require drying before field prep can begin. Below are crop updates from each of the state’s 13 agronomic field services regions.

The NCDA&CS Agronomic Services Division regional agronomists provide on-site consulting services to help growers. For more information on NCDA&CS Agronomic Field Services visit https://www.ncagr.gov/agronomi/rahome.htm.

Region 1: (report provided by Carter Askew, former Region 1 agronomist)
Counties include: Bertie, Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Gates, Hertford, Pasquotank and Perquimans

  • All potatoes planted.
  • Corn planting started earlier this week.
  • Some soybeans getting planted near Pasquotank
  • Small grains rebounded over the past couple of weeks and it looks like there might be a half-way decent crop.

Region 2 – report provided by Carla Pugh
Counties include: Beaufort, Dare, Hyde, Martin, Pamlico, Tyrrell and Washington

  • Small Grains: Wheat started off slow this winter due to heavy rains but in the past month it has turned around and it’s looking better and filling out.
  • Strawberries: Strawberries seem to be a couple of weeks late this year due to cool winter rains, we should be getting the first fruit off in the next week.
  • Potatoes: All potatoes, chipping and table stock, have been planted and the small pockets of rain are helping them to get started.
  • Tobacco: Tobacco greenhouses are looking good, but we are starting to see a few diseases.
  • Soybeans and Corn: Farmers in the Blacklands have started planting group 3 soybeans and corn.

Region 3 – report provided by Brandon Poole
Counties include: Carteret, Craven, Greene, Jones, Lenoir, Pitt and Wilson

  • Small Grains: Growers who planted small grains on time in the fall have a pretty good-looking crop, with the exception being some locations that had pretty decent Hessian fly pressure. Late planted wheat has struggled from the beginning with cool temperatures and excessive rainfall. Some growers were able to get on the late planted wheat early with nitrogen and the crop responded well. Growers who didn’t not get that early nitrogen application on have mostly decided to convert the late fields to cover crop. Overall the wheat remaining in the field looks good. With good management of diseases and insects the remaining crop should do well.
  • Strawberries: While the strawberry crop will be later than in the past few years, it looks to be a decent crop overall. Growers who planted late do have some smaller plants but they have a good root system, with a little sunshine and warm weather they should take off.
  • Tobacco: Most growers are quickly approaching the point where transplants are ready to go to the field. A few issues with Pythium have showed up in some greenhouses but were caught early and corrected. Field preparations have moved along nicely over the past week but transplanting will be impacted due to later than ideal fumigation.
  • Sweet Potatoes: Slip production is progressing on time in the region with some concerns of the cool snaps that have been received. Field preparations are moving along nicely.
  • Corn: Over the past week corn planting has started. Time will tell how germination was impacted for the cool weather over this past weekend. Planting efforts will be hindered on waiting for areas that have had standing water since last fall to dry.

Region 4 – report provided by Willie Howell
Counties include: Duplin, New Hanover, Pender, Onslow and Sampson

  • Small Grains: Wheat has struggled for most of its life thus far from cool, saturated soil conditions affecting root growth and nutrient uptake. Some growers were able to apply fertilizers in February to supply much needed nutrients. However, most growers were unable to apply nutrients until March. With the drier soil conditions and nutrient applications over the past few weeks, the crop looks promising. There are poorly drained areas in fields that will have poor yields.
  • Small Fruits: The small fruit crops for the most part dodged a bullet with the cold temperatures over Easter weekend. Frost and freeze protection payed big dividends. Row covers did a great job of protecting the strawberry crop. The wet, cool winter slowed development, and the crop may not have the yield of last season. However, the crop should be a good crop. Harvesting began in the southern portions of the region this week. Blueberry growers who implemented frost protection strategies more than likely saved the fruit from the Easter freeze. There are reports that blueberries without frost protection lost 50-70% of blooms. Opened blooms were severely damaged, while unopened blooms seemed to have been spared. Time will tell as to the extent of damage to yields in the weeks to come. Most vineyards do not have frost protection; therefore, there is the possibility of some grapes that were in bloom to be damaged. Again, the extent of the damage will become more obvious in a couple of weeks.
  • Tobacco: Tobacco land fumigation for the most part has been completed with tobacco transplanting to begin next week. Tobacco transplants look to be adequate to surplus in supply with excellent germination and greenhouse capacity. There have been occasional reports of Pythium root rot infecting transplants.
  • Corn: A small number of corn acres have been planted with some emerged, but planting progress will ramp up this week and next week, weather permitting.
  • Peanuts, Cotton, and Soybeans: Peanut, cotton, and soybean planting should begin around the first of May. Land preparation is already underway.

Region 5 – report provided by Georgia Love
Counties include: Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Cumberland, Hoke, Robeson and Scotland

Inside a nursery greenhouse
  • Small Grains: The small grain crop is all over the board. Crops planted on light land appear to look the best due to more well-drained soil and increased tillering. Most N applications were made on the late side due to saturated soils limiting ability to get into the field. Some root rot has been observed in many fields and Hessian fly has caused significant damage in some fields.
  • Strawberries: Strawberries have been behind in terms of development due to a more “normal” winter with cooler temperatures than we’ve experienced over the last few seasons. More stand issues from crown rot diseases were observed this fall and winter. Some of this has carried over into the spring, but fungicides have worked well. Some folks will likely start picking next week and will have enough berries to open to pickers soon.
  • Tobacco: Tobacco transplants have looked great this season for the most part. Germination was good despite cloudy conditions at seeding time and production has proceeded nicely. Some growers will likely start setting later this week.
  • Corn: Growers began planting corn about two weeks ago which is about on-time for this area. Confidence is high due to price increases lately, but growers are cautiously optimistic due to inflation in input costs.
  • Blueberries: Growers indicate that the crop looks better than it has the last several years with prospects for a good season. It appears that most made it through last weekend’s weather pretty well.
  • Greenhouse Tomatoes: Tomatoes have gotten off to a rocky start due to some insect issues causing widespread disease in isolated houses and early cloudy weather has not helped pollination.

Region 6 – report provided by Mike Wilder
Counties include: Edgecombe, Franklin, Halifax, Nash, Northampton, Vance and Warren

  • Small Grains: Wheat had a tough go with late planting and wet weather. While many decided to turn the crop under as cover and others did not plant, those who top dressed a bit later than ideal have good stands. Many fields that appeared they should have been abandoned in fall to mid-winter now appear surprisingly good. It remains to be seen if the extra effort will pay off with good yields.
  • Strawberries: Strawberry plants have fared well over the winter. Some smaller than normal plants, but with well-established root systems even they hold promise for a good crop. With a couple weeks left for potential frost protection ahead the crop is looking very good.
  • Tobacco: Tobacco plants are ready to leave the greenhouse in good condition overall. A few instances of chilling injury due to ventilation mistakes and an aversion to spending more on LP gas have been corrected. We have fewer farmers growing tobacco this year, but contract pounds have increased.
  • Greenhouse Tomatoes: Greenhouse tomato growers are plugging along ok. The most experienced growers have learned to do their best with clouds and cold.
  • Sweet potatoes: Sweet potato bedding is going faster now with dryer soil. Cold temperatures, but mostly rain, have throttled field bedding efforts since mid to late March. Greenhouse propagated plants are moving along well, with some sluggish growth due to cloudy conditions. Market demand for the root remains high. Another encouraging note – a few fields with previously diagnosed damaging populations of guava root knot are now coming in as safe to plant this season.
  • Field Nurseries: Commercial field grown nursery crops continue to mature healthy. The newer plantings are looking good. Fortunately for this industry, the real estate and new home buyer numbers continue to increase in many areas of Region 6. This industry took huge hits several years back. Hopefully they can have a few good years ahead.
  • Hemp: With a glut of hemp in processor / grower storage and the bankruptcy of at least one major processor, a few growers remain amazingly optimistic for the future of this crop. I am aware of only one grower planning to plant this spring. However, a good number of growers are counting on stored inventory eventually depleting. Some still see hope for a profitable crop in the future.

Region 7 – report provided by Don Nicholson
Counties include: Harnett, Johnston, Lee, Wake and Wayne

  • Small Grains: The crop, mainly wheat, has had a very unfavorable winter. Due to wet conditions, many acres were late getting planted, late or unable in getting nitrogen applied in January/February to foster tillering and late with herbicide applications. This has led to many acres being subpar in tiller count and bordering on, realistically, not being worth spending money on the cost of the additional nitrogen needed to carry the crop on. Those growers who have applied nitrogen to the crop have gotten a growth response and the majority of the crop looks decent, but the lack of tiller numbers will limit yield potential. There is, however, some good-looking wheat out there but it is the exception rather than the rule.
  • Strawberries: Wet, cool conditions limited winter growth and development. Later planted berries are small in some areas but with the weather conditions improving the smaller plants seem to be developing and looking close to normal. We had no instances of unusual warm streaks in January and February that prematurely “woke” up the plants that fosters early flowering, which, in turn, are generally lost due to frost events. Most growers will be picking some fruit later in the second week of April if they did a good job of frost-protecting during the Easter cold snap. The majority should be able to open by the third week of April in earnest.
  • Tobacco: Tobacco greenhouses look as good as I’ve ever seen. Germination, even with the less than desirable weather at the time of seeding, was as good as I have ever seen, with some greenhouses having 95%-plus germination and very even emergence. Some disease has started to show up, rhizoctonia and pythium mainly. Growers are able to manage them nicely. Fumigation of tobacco land has been slow in some areas due to the continued wet field conditions. Some growers were able to take advantage of a small window of opportunity in mid-March to get some done. With the drier conditions before Easter, field operations have resumed with a vengeance as time is drawing near for transplanting and for growers to be able to observe the 3-week waiting period for soil fumigants before transplanting. Tobacco growers seem to still be optimistic about the upcoming season due to the increased tobacco contracts and favorable prices therein. Tobacco-related equipment has been selling at relatively high prices on auctions and direct sales. There are a number of growers that are exiting tobacco production for ’21 which makes me wonder about the added contract amounts.
  • Corn: Planting has begun in some areas as the weather and soil conditions have improved, although some fields that consist of heavier, wetter-natured soils still have some drying to do before field operations can begin. Growers are optimistic about the prices of the crop but are not as happy about the ever-increasing cost of nitrogen, which has almost doubled in the past couple of months.
  • Peanuts, Soybeans, Cotton: Growers are encouraged by the higher prices that are much better than in ’20. Peanut acreage looks to be set to expand in Region 7, as there are several first-time growers receiving contracts for ’21. Cotton prices have renewed some interest in planting the crop, but nitrogen and other fertilizer prices and a very high cost of production overall for the crop may put some limits on those acres for ’21. As it has always been, soybeans is the fallback crop when growers don’t plant cotton, corn or peanuts, but is much more attractive now since prices have increased over the past few months.
  • Sweet potatoes: Growers/packers/shippers are encouraged by the temporary moratorium on the tariff imposed by the EU on U.S. sweet potatoes that will make the increasingly important export segment better for the next few months. From what I am hearing, there are increased intentions for planting the crop for ’21 which can be detrimental for the price received for the crop for growers. The acreages that are planted may be tempered by the availability of slips as there are reports of some growers who bedded slip beds early that went through some fairly low temperatures that may have killed a portion of the tubers in the ground. This remains to be seen going forward.

Region 8 – report provided by Anna-Beth Williams
Counties include: Alamance, Caswell, Durham, Guilford, Granville, Orange, Rockingham and Stokes

Prepping tobacco plants for the field.
  • Small Grains: Despite the poor growing conditions this fall and winter, wheat is starting to green up and grow. Many growers were delayed in January/February nitrogen applications and are applying nitrogen and herbicides now. Even though the crop looks good from the road, there are very few tillers and limited yield potential. There are also several fields with quite a bit of cold damage. Time will tell how yields will play out in June.
  • Strawberries: Strawberry plants are quite small due to fall and winter growing conditions. Blooms have been present for a few weeks now and most growers were able to get through the freeze last week without losing too many blooms. Red berries are starting to be spotted though so the farm stands are preparing for opening.
  • Tobacco: Greenhouses are looking good. Many were seeded late due to cool, wet conditions but are starting to take off and grow. Growers are getting in a time crunch to prepare land. Folks in the Eastern part of the region caught a break in the rain in late March and were able to start land prep. However, many fields remain too wet to get into with equipment and there is more rain in the forecast for the weekend. There is a slight bit of hope with increased contracts but also apprehension that too many contracts will create a surplus again.
  • Greenhouse Vegetables: Lettuce and spinach crops fared well this winter. Tomato growers have struggled with the cool, cloudy weather that has plagued us most of the winter. There has been some chilling injury and smaller, less vigorous plants due to conditions. During the past few weeks, the crop has taken a turn and yields are increasing. Cucumbers are being established in greenhouses and look good so far.
  • Field Vegetables: Cole crops and tomatoes have been planted by many growers and the plants are starting to stretch and grow. However, frost protection was needed for the freeze last week.

Region 9 – report provided by Brad Thompson
Counties include: Anson, Chatham, Montgomery, Moore, Randolph, Richmond and Stanly

  • Peaches: The peach crop within the region went from being very promising to almost an afterthought in one night. The latest cold snap saw temperatures in the 26-28 degree range with all peaches beyond petal fall and some varieties beginning to go into shuck-split stage. This made the crop very vulnerable to the cold temperatures. Growers that utilized wind machines seem to be in better shape than growers that did not have wind machines. However, the crop is still being assessed. It seems that the crop outlook gets more grim by the day, even with the growers that had wind machines. A more complete assessment can be made by mid-April. Based upon my observations among most of the peach growers in the region, I would say that growers that had wind machines have a 50% crop and growers that did not have wind machines have less than 5% of a crop. Early maturing varieties of peaches are basically wiped out with only mid-late season varieties having any sort of crop left on the trees. I would say as of this report, I’m cautiously optimistic that there is a 40-50% crop left within the region.
  • Strawberries: The seasonable winter months with no unusual warm stretches in January and February that we’ve seen the past couple of years allowed for normal plant development and fewer berry development that is usually lost due to a spring freeze. The freeze event that was just experienced in early April did not significantly affect the crop within the region. There was some foliage damage and very little blossom damage, but overall the crop looks good. Depending on variety and the weather, growers will begin harvesting by the third week of April. There has been very little disease pressure so far, but it is early. Anthracnose has been diagnosed at a couple of grower locations, but that seems to be under control now.
  • Small Grains: The small grain crop has made a surprising recovery in the region. The wet, cold winter hampered tillering in the wheat crop significantly, mainly because growers could not get into the fields to apply nitrogen when they needed to in the late winter and the rainy conditions leached a majority of the nutrients out of the root zone of the crop. However, when growers were able to apply nitrogen in late winter/early spring, and the temperatures began to warm, the crops really responded. Wheat growth increased significantly, and rye did as well. Tillering among the wheat crop is still lacking which will affect overall yields, but many growers went from wanting to disc up their crop to holding onto it now.
  • Tobacco: Many of the tobacco growers within the region got a nice surprise with an increase in contracted tonnage for 2021. Growers began to fumigate and bed land in March, however it was a little later than they would have liked due to the wet conditions that were seen throughout the region. Growers in the sandier lands were able to gas and bed quicker than those on heavier soil. However, as of April, all growers are making good progress at getting land prepared for the upcoming planting season. Tobacco transplants look great so far. Very little disease pressure and great germination has tobacco greenhouses looking very good. The warmth that arrived in late March has really allowed the transplants to start stretching. So far, everything looks very good in regard to tobacco production in the region.
  • Corn: Growers in the sandier portions of the region started planting corn in late March. However, due to the latest cold snap, some of the corn was burnt, but I don’t think it was hurt bad enough to damage it and regrowth is expected. Due to the increase in tobacco acreage in the region, corn acreage looks like it will decrease this year compared to last, but I wouldn’t be surprised if growers in the heavier soil portions of the region maintain or slightly increase corn production this year.
  • Greenhouse Vegetables: Growers that grow greenhouse tomatoes and peppers in the region are rejoicing right now because of the abundant sunshine that they’ve been experiencing. Plant growth in January and February was sub-optimal due to the cloudy, rainy conditions. Plants were not up taking nutrients due to a lack of proper photosynthesis and some growers were beginning to wonder if their plants were going to be able to produce quality fruit. As time has gone by, the plants have rebounded drastically due to increased sunlight and are producing abundant amounts of tomatoes. Greenhouse pepper plants look good but are still a few weeks out from harvesting. Overall, winter greenhouse vegetable production looks to be in good shape.

Region 10 – no longer exists

Region 11 – report provided by Daniel Overcash
Counties include: Cabarrus, Davidson, Davie, Forsyth, Iredell, Mecklenburg, Rowan, Surry, Union and Yadkin

  • Small Grains: Small grains are going to be a poor-to-fair crop this year. It was planted late because it was wet and then it stayed wet which caused stand loss. Around 10-20% of this crop was abandoned due to poor stand conditions. This spring growers were able to add timely nitrogen applications so that has helped, but that could not make up for a bad stand. There are a few good fields, but they are the exception, not the rule. This past week’s freeze seems to have spared the crop from any severe damage in the Piedmont.
  • Strawberries: Strawberries are in good shape despite the wet weather. Plants are in full bloom in the Piedmont and expect good picking in about three weeks, a month later than last year. Growers saved the strawberries blooms from last week’ s freeze in the lower Piedmont with covers. However, the growers in the northern Piedmont and foothills lost about half of the blooms even with the help of row covers.
  • Corn: Planting started this week in the Piedmont.
  • Vegetables: Vegetable transplants will be headed to field next week if long range weather forecasts indicate that it will stay warm. Most fields have plastic laid and are ready to go.
  • Pastures: Pastures are a muddy mess and grass is slow to grow this spring due to the cool weather, but they are starting to wake up now and grow. One silver lining was the abundant hay crop from 2020 has had growers fully supplied with feed throughout the winter.

Region 12 – report provided by Dwayne Tate
Counties include: Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, McDowell, Mitchell, Watauga and Wilkes

Christmas trees grown in raised beds
  • Small Fruits, Apples and Peaches: Last week’s freezing temperatures have strawberry, blueberry, apple, and peach growers nervous. Hopefully, row covers have protected strawberry crop. High winds made this task difficult and may have exposed vulnerable blooms here and there. Blueberries were at an uncomfortable bloom stage when temperatures dropped. Time will tell. The Brushy Mountain apple and peach crop has definitely been damaged by the freeze. It’s too early to tell to what extent. Apples, depending on variety, may have lost king blooms primarily. If that is the case, then there will still be crop. Early prognosis for peach crop is bleaker.
  • Small Grains: Small grains in area have had a tough go this winter due to wet conditions. However, many fields are starting to perk up in appearance. Neither barley nor wheat have begun to head.
  • Tobacco: Growers are attempting to get fields prepared for transplanting. Wet soil conditions are challenging. Plant supply looks good so far.
  • Corn and Soybeans: No corn or soybeans planted in Region 12 yet, but growers are gearing up.
  • Vegetables: Growers trying to get fields prepared for most part. Wet conditions have hampered. Some brassicas and greens in the ground. High tunnel production of tomatoes, peppers and brassicas are up and going. Greenhouse tomato and cucumber production in full swing.
  • Christmas Trees and Field Nursery: Field-grown nursery has been moving well especially if you have specimens that are in demand. Fraser fir markets were strong again last year. Phytophthora and scale continue to be major challenges. Transplants are still in short supply.
  • Hemp: Many growers still holding on to 2019 crop. Just a handful of growers in Region 12.

Region 13 – report provide by Chris Leek
Counties include: Buncombe, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Madison, Swain and Yancy

  • Small Grains: Small grain cover crops have taken off with warmer weather in March and should provide decent yields of haylage.
  • Strawberries: The strawberry crop is off to a good start on farms that have been frost protecting with sprinklers.
  • Apples and Peaches: Tree fruit farms were hit hard with freeze damage on apples and peaches throughout the region.
  • Corn and Soybeans: Corn and soybean fields are being prepared for planting. Fields have been wet, but a couple of dry periods have allowed for farmers to prepare fields for planting.
  • Burley Tobacco: Burley tobacco acreage continues to decline with only a few growers left in the region.
  • Vegetables: Vegetable growers have been able to lay plastic in fields for early crops.
  • Christmas Trees: Christmas tree farms in the region saw delayed planting due to transplants not being ready and labor issues.
  • Hemp: Farms throughout the region are still planning on growing hemp even though they are still having issues selling biomass and oil for a profit.

Region 14 – report provided by Steve Dillon
Counties include: Catawba, Cleveland, Gaston, Henderson, Lincoln, Polk, Rutherford and Transylvania

  • -Tree Fruits: The freezing temperatures this past weekend have negatively impacted apples in Cleveland, Henderson, Lincoln and Polk counties. Peaches in Cleveland and Lincoln were hit hard.
  • Small Fruits: Caneberries in Cleveland and Lincoln appear to have been hurt by the weather as well. This may result in later harvest of some cultivars. Most strawberries were frost protected.
  • Vegetables: Flooding damaged plastic mulch in Polk and Rutherford counties. Growers are holding transplants as they work to repair or prepare additional acreage.
  • Small Grains: Growers continue to top dress small grains for both forage and grain production. Wet weather has hindered fertilization attempts.
  • Corn: Growers continue to prepare fields for planting.
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