Farmers happy with recent rainfall, but need more

virginiaMore than 5 inches of rain in parts of western Virginia the weekend of Feb. 10 led to muddy conditions but happy farmers.

“They are so thankful for this rain; it was dry as a bone,” said Robert Harper, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation grain marketing manager. “But we still have some catching up to do.”

Despite the challenges of feeding cattle in the mud or cancelled field work, the rain brought relief for farmers who in early February were watching their ponds dry up and were worried about spring planting. While all of Virginia received significant rainfall, the western mountains got the bulk of it, said Jerry Stenger, director of the state office of climatology. Central Virginia farmers received 2 inches of rain or less, and southeastern farmers got less than an inch of precipitation.

“As a result, stream flows are generally up statewide,” Stenger said. “But groundwater recharging is always slower to respond.” Water levels in monitored wells in central and western parts of the state “have been far below normal this winter.”

As of Feb. 8 almost half of the state was in a moderate drought, and the rest was considered abnormally dry, according to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the National Integrated Drought Information System. While the rainy weekend helped, Stenger said long-term weather patterns haven’t indicated extra moisture for the rest of the winter. Farmers need more rain between now and the beginning of the planting season to “put water supplies in good stead for the upcoming growing season.

“It’s a race against the calendar,” he added. “The shortfall in precipitation this winter is really a concern to rural residents and farmers who depend on groundwater. We’re quickly running out of colder weather” when groundwater supplies are recharged because there are no plants or hot weather consuming water supplies. “Once the growing season begins about the first of April, trees and plants will be withdrawing water at a faster rate than it can be replenished.”