El Nino impacts Georgia agriculture

By Clint Thompson for CAES News

Farmers who might face a delayed planting season can thank El Nino for Georgia’s exceedingly wet winter, according to Pam Knox, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension agricultural climatologist.

Row crop and vegetable producers usually begin planting their crops in late March through May, but excessive rainfall and cloudy conditions in January and February have left many fields soaked and soggy. El Nino, a recurring climate pattern involving changes in the temperature of waters in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, directly affects rainfall distribution in the tropics and can have a strong influence on weather across the U.S. and other parts of the world, according to the National Weather Service.

“For some, if they have fields that are prone to flooding, I think they’re going to have to consider delaying their plantings there,” Knox said.

Georgia’s peanut farmers only have to look back to last year to recall another planting season delayed by weather. Three straight weeks of rain in May 2018 forced peanut producers to wait until June to get their crop in the ground.

According to UGA Extension peanut agronomist Scott Monfort, planting season is still a month away, so there’s plenty of time left for fields to dry out.

“It is in the back of our minds that we do have a lot of work that needs to be done which should have already been done by now. But, because of rain, the farmers just haven’t been able to do it yet,” Monfort said.

North Georgia has received the most rainfall of late. According to the UGA Weather Network, Gainesville, Georgia, received 16.19 inches of rain from January 1 to March 6, compared to 12.5 inches over the same period in 2018. In Rome, Georgia, 19.31 inches of rain were recorded from January 1 to March 6, compared to 10.12 inches in the same period in 2018.

“We’re in an El Nino winter, so you expect it to be wet. Even so, there are some places in the northern part of the state that are setting records for how much rain they’ve received,” Knox said.

Southwest Georgia has received its share of rain as well. During that same time frame, Tifton, Georgia, received 8.08 inches, compared to 6.77 inches last year. In Moultrie, Georgia, 9.08 inches were recorded, compared to 5.62 inches in 2018.

Rain isn’t the only weather condition affecting farmers. The threat of another late-spring freeze is also a concern for peach and blueberry farmers. Temperatures in Georgia dipped to below freezing March 6 and 7, just weeks after many peach trees and blueberry bushes started to bloom. The budding trees and bushes remain vulnerable to the freezing temperatures, which have the potential to damage a crop in its earliest stages of growth.

“I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet. I think we’re at the point where the chance of another deep freeze is going to be rarer and rarer,” Knox said. “If you look at temperatures for Alma (Georgia) and places like that, it got right around the freezing mark during those couple of days. Some fields got dinged a little, but some got in there a little above freezing.”

Here are some characteristics of an El Nino:

- Warm ocean waters lead to increased tropical rain and thunderstorms.

- Atmospheric pressure increases near Indonesia and in the western Pacific and decreases in the eastern Pacific.

- Pressure changes lead to the subtropical jet stream moving into Florida, southern Georgia and Alabama, steering cloudy, rainy systems into the region during winter.

- Because of changes in the strength of the jet stream, hurricanes are less likely.

- El Nino, which occurs about every three to seven years, usually lasts for just one year.

- The likelihood of tornadoes and severe weather increases in the Florida peninsula during an El Nino year.

For more information about Georgia weather, see

Clint Thompson is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences based in Tifton.