Wet weather woes worse than tornadoes for rural Virginia

HurricaneThe National Weather Service confirmed that eight tornadoes hit Virginia Sept. 17, but excessive rains from Hurricane Florence are what did the most damage in rural parts of the state.

Heavy rains washed out crops and threatened livestock because the moisture further soaked already-saturated ground. As of Sept. 16, rainfall totals in five areas of Virginia averaged more than 12 inches above normal for year-to-date, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Southeast Virginia farmers are familiar with the threat posed by tropical systems. They spent much of last week racing to get crops harvested before Florence hit, only to see the storm shift south.

“Farmers took advantage of the slowed hurricane approach to the coast and harvested a lot of corn this week,” noted Virginia Cooperative Extension agent Watson Lawrence Jr. in Chesapeake. “We moved the needle from 40 percent harvested to 70 percent harvested this week.”

Producers in Mecklenburg County estimated about $2 million in crop losses and damage, said Greg Maxey, a Virginia Farm Bureau Federation district field services director. Flooded tobacco fields and washed-away fences were major problems, he reported.

“There are one or two reports of livestock that were likely washed away in flood waters,” Maxey noted. “Any soybean fields planted near a stream or a river almost certainly experienced some flooding.

“At this late stage of the harvest season, the tobacco that was in the field during the storms was probably the heaviest and highest-valued crop,” he added. “The crop was already deteriorating from being mature, and the excessive moisture will only expedite that deterioration. Fields are very wet, and farmers can’t get in them to resume harvest until there is some dry weather.”

Rivers and streams also overflowed farther north in Nelson County. Pumpkin grower Henry Fitzgerald told WSET-TV that while 20 percent of his crop was floating down the Tye River, all the pumpkins in his flooded fields were lost because they were in contaminated water. He estimated he lost $10,000 worth of pumpkins to the storm; fortunately, he has pumpkins ready to harvest in other fields.

In Floyd County producers dealt with flash flooding and some lost livestock. Virginia Cooperative Extension agent Jon Vest, who works in Floyd, said fruit producers were hit the hardest.

“We’re very concerned about the apple crop; we could have 30 percent losses or better due to the fact the storm hit at the peak of harvest season,” Vest explained. “Stayman apples are already susceptible to cracking in normal harvest season, and the wet weather really creates problems for not only harvest but the post-harvest storage and shipping to fresh markets.

“Grape producers who were right in the middle of harvest or preparing for harvest, this type of rain almost ruins the sugar levels. There will be lots of splitting issues and rotting issues beyond our control,” he added.

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