Middle Georgia farmers adapt to summer rainfall

On average, July is Macon’s hottest and rainiest month and this July is even hotter and rainier. A heat dome over Georgia is causing temperatures to reach as high as 106 degrees while rainfall has increased by 9% since last July. 

Rain interferes with the daily lives of all people, but for farmers in Middle Georgia, navigating rainfall is necessary for the upkeep of their crops. 

Macon is considered “a city with a significant rainfall,” according to Climate-Data.org with July alone averaging 4.2 inches of rain. Though 4.2 inches is less than a city like Augusta whose rainiest month averages 6.3 inches of rain, it is still enough rain to be detrimental to farmers. 

A shortage or excess in rainfall can ruin entire batches of crops according to the Agriculture and Natural Resource agent for UGA’s Houston county extension, Charlotte Meeks. 

Some crops like pecans or bean pods require a lot of irrigation which dryland fields don’t have. “If we have any dryland fields that are in production,” Meeks said, “rainfall is very critical for them.” 

The majority of farms do not use irrigation. Only 14 percent of U.S. farms have irrigated land according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture

“Non-irrigated field farmers are 100% reliant on rainfall to water their crops unlike irrigated field farmers who can put as much or a little water as they would like.”

Though lack of rain can be detrimental to farmers, so can excess rain. In the last 30 days, Macon’s total rainfall has increased to 6.24 inches, 1.48 above the normal amount according to weather.gov.  

Don Taylor, who owns Sunshine’s Berry Farm with his wife Paulette, said he has had to make changes to how he runs his farm thanks to having more rain than he’s seen in the past couple years. Sunshine’s Berry Farm has an irrigation system that is 500 feet long for its 17 rows of blueberries.  

Taylor originally had the system cycled for every other day with each row getting about 90 minutes of water, but he said the rain changed that. “What we’ve done a lot this year is we just pause the system, sometimes two to three weeks at a time,” Taylor said. 

The rain allowed the Taylors to save money by not pumping water through the irrigation system for weeks at a time, but it had an adverse effect on the blueberries, Taylor said. 

“What we found is that if you get a lot of rain, then the blueberries tend to split open just because they’re so moist,” Taylor said. “And we use those for making blueberry jam and blueberry syrup.”

The Agriculture and Natural Resource agent for UGA’s Peach and Taylor County extension, Jeff Cook, said he has seen the damage excess rain can do during his 21 years of work.

“I’m pretty sure all the growers that I deal with in this area have had to pull a tractor or something out of the field,” Cook said. He mentioned that rain could make crops difficult to fertilize, spray with insecticide, and can cause them to drown. 

“You can see a lot of crops that are probably still waiting on a shot of fertilizer,” Cook said,” because you can’t get that big heavy equipment in the field right now.”

The Taylors haven’t had to deal with the rain washing off their insecticide since their farm is organic and perseverative free.

“You don’t peel a blueberry, you eat the whole thing. So whatever has been applied to the skin of that Berry, you’re going to ingest it,” Taylor said. “And that’s why that’s why we do not use any chemical fertilizers or pesticides or herbicides on our farm.” 

Cook wouldn’t complain about the rain at the end of the day. “If somebody hears me complain about too much rain and it quits raining then they’re gonna blame me for it,” Cook said.

Other local farms like Sunshine’s Berry Farm can be found at localharvest.org and Sunshine’s Berry Farm can be reached on their website, sunshinesberryfarm.com