Wet weather proved a mixed blessing for 2018 field crops

rain2018 was the wettest year on record for dozens of Virginia communities, especially in rural areas. And corn, peanut, soybean and tobacco crops all were affected by the extra moisture.

Corn production was estimated at 47.5 million bushels, only slightly lower than the 2017 crop, according to a Feb. 8 annual report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Corn seemed to suffer the least from the excess rain, but it was a struggle to plant it and get it harvested, said Robert Harper, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation grain marketing manager.

“Farmers across the state had acres they had to replant, acres that washed out. And sometimes the crop didn’t grow well because of too much rain,” Harper explained. “But nearly every producer I work with had above-average years for corn in certain pockets. I did have producers who told me that they grew best corn crop in their lives last year.”

Soybeans suffered more from the rain, Harper said, but growers still managed to make a pretty good crop. Soybean production in 2018 was estimated at 25.4 million bushels, 2 percent lower than in 2017. Yields per acre averaged 43 bushels, down 1 percent from the previous year.

“Agronomists and extension agents say soybeans are all about sunlight. When you look at how many cloudy days as we had in the 2018 growing season, we’re thankful soybean average yields were off by only one bushel an acre,” Harper said. He noted that some producers were still harvesting soybeans in early January because they couldn’t get heavy equipment into their waterlogged fields before then.

Virginia peanut farmers produced 101 million pounds in 2018, 16 percent less than in 2017. A smaller crop was expected since the 2017 harvest set a record, said Southampton County grower and VFBF Peanut Advisory Committee member West Drake. Some peanut growers also struggled with disease problems due to excess moisture.

“Yields were down in many fields due to disease,” Drake said. “In fields where farmers were able to apply late fungicides and keep their peanuts healthy through late summer, their yields were higher.

“In my hometown, a few producers saw the highest yields they ever raised last year. I don’t know how to explain that; we just got lucky.”

Virginia flue-cured tobacco production was 17 percent lower in 2018 than the year before. Producers received fewer contracts to grow tobacco due to declining demand, but wet weather also was a factor.

“We suffered yield losses due to hurricanes and excessive moisture. There were some guys that, one day, they had a field of tobacco, and the next day it was all underwater,” recounted Tony Banks, VFBF senior assistant director of agriculture development and innovation.

A bright spot among major field crops last year was the cotton crop, which came in at 195,000 bales, 2 percent higher than in 2017. Cotton producers harvested 14,000 more acres last year than the year before.

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