It has been a season filled with contrasts for many farmers in the lower Southeast this year, with extremely dry conditions at planting and plenty of rainfall in July, only to be followed by more drought conditions as the year progressed.

Drought continued to intensify in the region during August, as Hurricane Irene bypassed states that needed rain the most.

These growing conditions made it easy to distinguish between the “haves” and the “have-nots” of irrigation during the Central Alabama Crops Tour held in mid-August.

Robert Walters, who grows peanuts and cotton in the area, says the only thing he hasn’t liked about his irrigation scheduler this year is that it hasn’t told him “no.”

“Our irrigation water comes out of a lake, and we use IrrigatorPro for scheduling irrigation. There were times when it didn’t appear as if it needed watering, but it was running out below the surface.

“If rain didn’t give us at least 6/10-inch, I’d just keep the irrigation running. We try to run it in the evening, from 6 p.m. until 7 a.m.,” he says.

Walters also uses the irrigation scheduler for his cotton, which yielded almost 1,000 pounds per acre in last year’s drought conditions. “We put irrigation out for a reason — it’s not to hang Christmas lights on,” he says.

Alabama peanut producers with irrigation certainly have benefited this year, says Kris Balkcom, Auburn University Extension peanut specialist.

“Peanuts only grow vines until they are about 100 days old, and then they start slowing down. If we’ve got the water, we need to go ahead and close in that canopy and keep back the weeds.

“It’s important to keep the soil cool. IrrigatorPro has been proven to make the highest peanut yields when using it to schedule irrigation,” he says.

It’s important in a dry year, says Balkcom, to get peanuts off to a good start.

“After a one-inch rain, when the environmental conditions have changed and it’s cooled off, come back the next day and put out another inch. Make those peanuts good and wet in the soil profile. Then you can maintain them on a weekly basis throughout the remainder of the season,” he says.

While U.S. peanut acreage is down this year — down 10 percent in Alabama — pricing opportunities appear promising, he says. “Peanuts that were not contracted last year that went into the loan are being brought out at $750 to $800, so that gives a little more incentive for growing peanuts,” says Balkcom.

Austin Hagan, Auburn University Extension plant pathologist, says his state’s peanut producers have been spared the worst of disease problems this year.