As farmers gathered at the North Carolina State Fair, there was much bemoaning of the bad weather that has characterized this season right up until fair time. In fact, the Sunday after the Fair began on Oct. 16, a killing frost set in, followed by another the following morning.
The frost varied in its severity from north to south, with the growing season for cold-sensitive crops essentially coming to an end. The continuous rains had already marred the late season at the beginning of October.
“We are seeing water damage on soybeans, especially in the Piedmont,” said NC Ag Commissioner Steve Troxler, in a conversation with farm people at the new Tobacco Pavilion at the fairgrounds on Friday before the freeze. “Now that it has dried out, the crop has been maturing rapidly.” But the frost will be a big problem, “We didn’t have the flooding that occurred in South Carolina, but the rains were nevertheless a catastrophic event.”
With the frosts factored in, Troxler described the fall of 2015 as the most dismal he could remember.
The October rains weren’t quite a catastrophe for Bennie Lee, who farms near Sanford, NC and helped at the Tobacco Growers Association of NC exhibit at the Fair. “We didn’t get a tremendous amount of rain, maybe seven to eight inches and it came down slow.”
But his soybeans were definitely affected by the bad weather. “The beans in the pod were ready to pick when the rains started,” he says. “It stayed dark for so long, they lacked the quality.”
Still, the October rains were not entirely without benefit. “We were awful dry when this started,” he says. “We needed rain.”
Lee grows tobacco, which wasn’t seriously affected. “The worst thing was it kept us out of the field for 10 days.” He was nearly finished with tobacco harvesting when the rain started. “We had two days to go,” he says. “We finished on Oct. 8.”
In eastern North Carolina near Kinston, flue-cured grower Alton Roberson said after the rains, farmers harvested their tobacco as quickly as they could. “But right much was still in the field,” he said. “There was a great fear that leaf would turn to trash on the stalk if it stayed out too long.”
Reports from the field
A series of reports from Extension personnel in the field reveled the extent of damage from the weather and what farmers are doing in the post-frost conditions.
In Yancey County, NC a mountainous area that includes Mt. Mitchell, the first killing frost/freeze of the season occurred the week ending on Oct. 16 as temperatures dipped into the mid 20s over most of the county. “Other than a few scattered light rain showers early in the week, we’ve dried out considerably (since the heavy rains of Oct. 1 and 2),” says Extension agent Stanley Holloway. Farmers used the dry spell to catch up on harvesting corn for grain and vegetable crops, tending livestock and tagging Christmas trees in preparation for harvest, he says.
In Caswell County, NC north of Greensboro, some of the soybeans and corn that needed to be harvested before the rainfall of Sept. 24 to Oct. 4 are now sprouting, which is not good for these small grain growers, said Extension agent Joey Knight. “Cooler temperatures have helped livestock producers, with pastures improving.”
In Cabarrus County, NC – north of Charlotte, there were frost and freezing temperatures in some areas on Sunday morning. “But it was not enough to end the growing season just yet,” said Carl Pless, Extension agent. “Farmers seeded small grains and ryegrass into pastures hoping for hay-saving winter and early spring grazing. Many hay fields were mowed this week. Yields improved by recent rains, but still short of needs and quality only marginal.”
In Pender County, NC on the coast, farmers estimated 20 to 30 percent loss of the corn acres that did not get harvested before the 13 days of rain late September /early October, said Extension agent Mark Seitz. “Thankfully, winds were light, and corn remained standing,” he said. “Some re-sprouting is occurring in corn and in soybeans, but in all we escaped what could have been a disastrous weather event.”
In Virginia, there were killing frosts in much of Southside Virginia on Oct. 18 and 19 and they brought an end to the tobacco season for all practical purposes.
“There is very little left that we can pull and harvest now,” said David Reed, Virginia Extension tobacco specialist. “The severity of the frost was the problem more than the timing – There were temperatures as low as 26 degrees.” His best guess is that about 400 barns of flue-cured were lost, maybe 1.25 million pounds or about two percent of the expected crop.
In Brunswick County, VA south of Petersburg, there were light frosts on each morning of the weekend of Oct. 15, 16 and 17, said Extension agent Cynthia Gregg. “Fall calving is in full swing, and grain crops are being monitored for moisture to insure that harvest and storage are appropriate for crop. Farmers continue to scout soybeans for seed issues.”
In Prince George County, VA adjacent to Petersburg, soybeans had taken a hit from the weather. “Full-season soybeans suffered from a dry August and then 10 days of damp weather,” said Extension agent Scott Reiter. “Quality is poor with nearly every load having damage and small, shriveled seeds. Yields are not terrible but would have been better with timely August rain.”
Wheat and barley were being seeded, but total acreage was unclear due to depressed prices. One of the few bright spots: “Corn harvest is winding down with growers pleased with good yields,” said Reiter.