Southside, Southwest Virginia see dry spell sinking in

wildfire seasonAs wildfires range across the Appalachian Mountains southwest of Virginia, Virginia farmers are keeping their own close watch on the weather.

Topsoil moisture levels for the week ending Nov. 12 were rated “short” or “very short” for 54 percent of the state, according to the weekly crop weather report by the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Subsoil moisture levels were also worrisome, at 36 percent short or very short.

“The entire state is running well below normal precipitation over the last 30 days, particularly a large swath of Southside Virginia through parts of Southwest Virginia,” said Jerry Stenger, director of the State Office of Climatology at the University of Virginia. “Many of these areas have received virtually no precipitation in that period. Some areas like around Martinsville are shaping up for the driest November on record. The other dry region is Northern Virginia.”

The good news for farmers is the dry fall has allowed most harvesting to proceed quickly, the report said. The corn harvest is over, and the pace of the cotton and soybean harvests is above the five-year average and almost finished. Winter small grain planting is also under way.

But some cattle producers already are feeding hay that was set aside for later in the winter, and farm ponds are shrinking fast.

“The county has not had significant rain in about six weeks, since Hurricane Matthew sent showers this way,” wrote Kevin Spurlin, a Virginia Cooperative Extension unit coordinator in Grayson County, in the NASS report. “Fall pasture is limited but could have been worse if not for above-average temperatures that kept grass growing well into autumn.”

Rainfall has been 8 inches below normal in Scott County, according to Extension agent Scott Jerrell, who noted that cattle producers were feeding hay due to “no grass growth to speak of. We have extremely critical weather conditions for fires, with approximately 600 acres burning this past weekend.”

There’s no clear sign the dry weather will break soon, Stenger said, although there is hope.

“We are at that time of year when we expect winter storms to be moving through Virginia, bringing substantial and widespread precipitation. Some of it may be snow, but most will probably be rain,” he said.

“So far we have just not had any substantial storms that have been steered our way. We certainly hope that will change over the course of the next couple months.”

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