Extremely hot temperatures and only scattered showers are the formula for poor crops for some Virginia farmers every summer, and 2017 is shaping up to be more of the same.
“Crops and livestock are getting stressed; corn is curling and soybeans are wilting,” was the summary analysis in the July 24 weekly Virginia crop progress and condition report by the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Topsoil moisture rates dropped dramatically from several weeks before, when virtually all of the state’s farmers reported enough moisture for their crops. This time 59 percent of Virginia’s cropland was reported to be in serious need of rain.
Still, some farmers are doing well, thanks to timely rains in their areas. Forty-nine percent of the state’s corn crop is rated as being in good to excellent condition.
“In the little area around Stratford Hall and Westmoreland State Park the corn is looking pretty decent,” said Chip Jones, a grain producer and member of the Westmoreland County Farm Bureau.
“The first two weeks of July were bone-dry, but we’ve had up to 5 inches of rain since then.”
Jones noted other parts of the Northern Neck and fields along U.S. Route 360 from Richmond to the Chesapeake Bay haven’t fared so well. “People who planted early corn are pretty good; those who planted later are concerned that the pollination period hit at the same time as those upper-90s and 100-degree days in later July,” he said.
Other crop conditions in Virginia showed many field crops were ahead of the normal pace of growth and harvest. Summer potatoes are almost completely harvested, the peach harvest is 32 percent finished and cotton plants are maturing ahead of schedule.
Outside of Virginia, extreme drought conditions have settled into the upper Midwest Corn Belt, and corn conditions have been declining rapidly there. The July 24 national crop progress report estimates 62 percent of the U.S. corn crop is rated good to excellent, compared to 76 percent a year ago.
“Traditionally every year in July and August the speculators in Chicago buy or sell futures contracts based on Northern Hemisphere weather,” explained Robert Harper, grain manager for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “And every year on June 30 a special report, the planted acres report, is issued. Then it’s like the Daytona 500—the market takes off. We’ve seen some fascinating action on the Chicago Board of Trade, and we’ve hit market highs of the year already for corn, wheat and soybeans. Currently we’re off the highest price, partly because they’re starting to get rain in the northern Corn Belt.”
Harper said the trading action has been particularly busy for soybeans. Last year farmers harvested the largest soybean crop in U.S. history, and this spring they planted more acres than ever before. But the weather in the next few weeks will determine whether there are record crops or record busts.
“This weather market is intoxicating and yet agonizing for our members. When there are huge price swings, your gut hurts because your profit could disappear overnight. That’s why I advocate every time that a producer should set a profitable target and stick to it, and get out of the emotional roller coaster aspect of it,” Harper said.