Even farmers have had enough rain

hurricaneFarmers in some parts of Virginia have been experiencing one of the rainiest months of May on record, and they’re finding it difficult to keep their spirits afloat when so much fieldwork has been put on hold.

“The wet weather has really slowed down all farm work,” said Ellis Walton, a Middlesex County farmer and member of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation board of directors. “You can’t care for small grains and can’t get started on corn and bean planting because it’s been too wet to put equipment in the fields. No hay has been cut for weeks. I still have a half-inch of standing water in my own yard.”

In some parts of the state the steady rain has compensated for an earlier dry spring. But all across Virginia rainfall accumulations are 2 inches above normal, according to the National Weather Service. As a result corn, peanuts, soybeans and tobacco are all being planted later than usual.

“We were ahead of the pace as of the first of April, but after all this rain now everything’s behind,” said David Hickman, an Accomack County potato grower and VFBF board member. “Now we’ve got slugs eating the corn. They’re thriving under the crop residue out in the fields, eating all the seed.

“On these cool, rainy days slugs feed all day long. About all you can do is put out bait to kill them; normal pesticides won’t touch them. And that’s expensive, about $19 per acre,” Hickman said. “The only cure for slugs is hot, sunny weather.”

Farmers need at least a couple of days of clear weather to cut and dry hay, and that’s been hard to come by. Consequently, at least half of the hay crop is rated below average, according to the May 22 crop weather survey by the Virginia office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

“A rainy May has pretty much brought hay cutting to a standstill in my area,” said Gordon Metz, a Henry County cattleman and VFBF board member. “We’ve had rain almost every day for the past four weeks.”

Rain usually helps grass and hay grow, but Metz said it can be a mixed blessing. “For most hay producers, the quality will be down, but the quantity will be up,” he said. “And it’s really hard to make up a couple of missed weeks in the spring. High-value hay like alfalfa is usually cut as often as five times a year. So if you miss the first cutting or two it’s very difficult to make that up at the end of the season.”