Soggy fields have led to ongoing harvest in 2018

Most Virginia row crops typically are harvested by Thanksgiving, but a record rainy spring and summer has led to one of the longest harvest seasons in recent memory.

“Some growers have literally been running wide open since February, and now is usually their downtime,” noted Robert Harper, grain marketing manager for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “The crop’s in the storage bin; it’s time to clean up equipment and maybe take some time to go deer hunting. Not this year.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s final crop progress report for Virginia in 2018, released on Nov. 26, stated that only 65 percent of this year’s soybean crop had been harvested, compared to the five-year average of 83 percent. Winter wheat and barley planting also is behind pace as producers struggle to find a dry window in which to plant.

“It’s not just rain now, it’s also snow,” Harper commented. “Producers can cut their crops for a couple of days, then they’re rained out for three days, then they’re back out for two more days. It’s been like that since September for soybeans and since August for corn. A lot of producers are thinking they’ll have to wait for a hard freeze before they can get a combine over the last few acres.”

Essex County grain producer Jimmy Brizendine said he was fortunate to get his crops harvested close to on-time. Driving across the state, he’s seen a lot of soybeans still out in the fields.

“You cut for a few days, then have a rain and you have to wait,” Brizendine said. “The corn wasn’t much of a problem, but the beans were this year.

“I did alright with hay. Some of it wasn’t cured like I wanted, but I’m doing pretty good. Hay is not something you cut when you’re ready; you cut it when the weather is ready,” he added.

The longer a crop remains in a field after it matures, the lower the final yields after harvest, Harper explained. Farmers also lose money when a grain crop is too wet when it’s harvested. Some growers have invested in expensive drying systems, but those can slow down operations at harvest time.

“Corn can stay in the field when it’s harvest-ready. But beans cannot,” Harper said. “The quality drops as soon as the next day when they’re ready for harvest. That’s one reason we’re seeing higher levels of damage in the soybean crops this year.”

By the end of November, the entire state reported adequate or surplus topsoil moisture levels, another unusual circumstance for Virginia growers. Heavy equipment like combines, tractors and grain trucks have been “tracking up” some soggy fields, and Harper said growers will be working to repair that damage as soon as they can.

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