Rainy spring brings mixed results for Virginia farmers

storm-clouds-headerAcross Virginia, farmers are feeling the effects of a rainy spring—both good and bad.

“It’s been a blessing and a curse,” said Matt Yancey, Virginia Cooperative Extension agriculture and natural resources agent in Rockingham County.

Rockingham is primarily a forage-based county in which farmers grow crops to feed their livestock. They typically plant a winter crop that is followed by a summer corn crop.

“The rain has made it hard to harvest the winter crop, so everything’s backed up,” Yancey said. But the corn that some farmers managed to plant “is looking good.”

While the rain has helped some crops grow, it has made it difficult to cut and bale hay and winter wheat. It also has prevented tobacco plants from setting deep roots and has made it difficult for farmers to apply crop protectants.

In Pittsylvania County, where a variety of row crops, vegetables and fruits are grown, the rain has brought mixed results.

“It’s positively affected the soybean and corn crops thus far,” said Stephen Barts, an Extension crop and soil sciences agent. The main concern, he said, is that the rain has delayed hay and wheat harvesting.

“The wheat cutting is only about half done, and with high humidity in the morning and afternoon thunderstorms, that doesn’t leave much time for harvesting.”

The longer wheat stays in the field, the more the quality of the grain declines, explained David Coleman, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation grain manager. “But farmers can’t catch a break with the weather. They need three to four days without rain to get their crop harvested. Even if it’s cloudy and not raining, without the sun the fields don’t dry out.”

Scott Jessee, Extension agriculture and natural resources agent in Russell County, agreed. He said some farmers are still trying to get their first cutting of hay when typically “they are pretty much done by now.”

Barts and Jessee added that tobacco growers are also challenged because wet weather has prevented their plants from establishing deep roots. With the summer storm season barreling in, the plants are more likely to be uprooted.

“This is a complete one-eighty from the last five years,” Barts said. Virginia farmers are usually dealing with drought instead of excess rainfall.

Yancey said his area got about 2 inches of rain in June the past two years; this year, it has seen about 6 inches. “It’s extremely abnormal,” he said.

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, rainfall totals across most of Virginia have been greater than usual over the past three months.

“One farmer said to me, ‘I can make it rain [with irrigation], but I can’t make it stopraining,’” Barts said. “It’s been a challenge.”

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