by Chris Bickers
How much rain fell in North Carolina this spring and early summer? On July 9, Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler said, “It is just about time to call for Noah and the Ark! It’s amazing the amount of rain we have had. It’s not just one region it is pretty much the statewide. In some areas of the state, as much as 50 percent of the wheat crop still hasn’t been harvested. We have a wheat crop in the field that was a good crop. We can’t get it combined. Really I am worried that if this weather continues we are going to see this wheat sprout in the head.”
One crop that can benefit from all this rain is corn, Troxler said. But even corn could be affected if the wet weather persists. “The corn will take this amount of water and can do well with it. But I just had a report that there is a dairyman in western North Carolina that has 900 acres of corn under water. When it goes under water, most of the time it is going to be unsalvageable.”
In western Carolina, some vegetable farmers have had to plant three times. And the plants are under water again. Statewide, the blackberry harvest has been slowed considerably compared to normal.
“We have cotton that is drowning,” Troxler continued. “Even planting soybeans and sweet potatoes has been a challenge. But I have learned as a farmer for 40 years that you never know. We will see how this season ends up. We could still do all right.”
The situation has been no better in South Carolina. “Some areas of the state have received the equivalent of an annual rainfall,” said Hugh Weathers, South Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture, told the media on July 16. “It’s great to be out of a drought, but now the excess rain is wreaking havoc on a lot of the crops. We have had record yields of wheat previously, with farmers are averaging 80-plus acres per acre. But the last 25 percent will remain in the fields because we can’t access it.”
Wheat is the first casualty of the year, but many fruits and vegetables are suffering as well. “Our strawberries were low quality, as were the spring onions,” he said. “It’s been an impactful year based on the moisture, and we are not out of it yet.”
Pollination on the corn crop may have been aborted because of the rain. “We also have to worry about nitrogen leaching out due to the rain. We also have soybean acres that won’t get planted, so there will be many idle acres. A lot of grains may have to find their way into milling instead of feed, and that’s a lower priced market.”
A problem for tobacco
Tobacco might be the crop facing the biggest potential loss. “All this water is a problem for tobacco,” said Troxler. “Tobacco does not like a tremendous amount of water. It can’t stand its root system being in water. We know that it is being affected. If it gets too much water, the quality is going to suffer.”
But the good news is tobacco is a resilient crop. “I have seen it bounce back from wet weather before. But I had a crop in 1995 that grew under similar conditions and did not bounce back. Some dry weather would make a big difference.”
Troxler did not want to paint too grim a picture for tobacco. “We could still have a decent year if things clear up,” he said.
Kentucky’s tobacco areas were hit even harder when they got eight to ten inches of rain over the July 4 holiday. “This was probably the most widespread damage I have seen from a single event in my career,” said Bob Pearce, Kentucky Extension tobacco specialist.
Planted acreage this year is up by 3,000 tons to 23,000 tons with the average yield forecast at 2,400 pounds per acre, the agency said.
Parts of Ohio had the same experience as Kentucky.
Virginia has been a bright spot in this wet growing season. Flue-cured tobacco in Virginia, spared the heavy rains that may reduce yields in North Carolina and other producing states, is doing well and is expected to increase 15 percent from last year to 55.2 million pounds, the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said.
Agronomists with the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service said that despite the plants being shallow-rooted and thin leaved, the state has the potential for a good crop if it doesn’t turn extremely dry in August. There wasn’t much damage or loss through mid-July.
A flue-cured grower near Kinston in eastern North Carolina said that his tobacco had already lost one harvesting because of all the water. “Now, some of our fields are yellowing,” he said. “Those plants won’t put on size. Some of our tobacco has flopped and won’t be harvested. It looks to me like we will lose 25 percent of the crop in this area.”
Most of the damage came from near-daily rains starting June 17 and continuing till July 13 and amounting to 20 inches. There was especially heavy rain on July 11 and 12.
Kenneth Reynolds of Abingdon, VA, a burley grower in southwest Virginia, said getting his crop in the field had been a challenge thanks to the weather. Transplanting was delayed on his farm probably 10 days later than usual. Statewide, he said planted acreage is at least stable. “It may be up but not by a significant amount,” Reynolds said.
by Chris Bickers