RICHMOND, Va. — This fall’s dry weather is a positive for most, but not all, Virginia farmers.
As of Sept. 9, 77% of the state’s farmland was found lacking in topsoil moisture. It hadn’t rained for several weeks in many rural communities, and even Hurricane Dorian didn’t bring much relief.
“Everybody was at a critical stage last week and just knew we were going to get some rain out of Dorian. But only a slice of Southeast Virginia got rain; everyone else was missed,” said Robert Harper, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation grain marketing manager. “Soybeans are suffering, and the last hay cutting will be light. I’ve been feeding hay to cattle at the farm I rent in Powhatan since mid-August. It stinks to see the season end on such a dry note.”
Fortunately, most the state’s field crops are estimated to be in fair to excellent condition, according a recent National Agricultural Statistics Service report. Virginia’s corn crop was ranked fair to excellent in 93% of fields, and 96% of cotton is in similar condition. Pastures and hay fields are the crops adversely affected.
“Several farms reported having to feed hay for over two months now because of dry conditions,” reported Cynthia Martel, a Virginia Cooperative Extension agriculture agent in Franklin County.
Extension agent Thomas Stanley in Rockbridge County added that hot and dry conditions “accelerated loss of soil moisture, and led to rapidly deteriorating pasture conditions” in that locality.
Dry conditions have only been eased by pop-up thunderstorms for most farmers since the Fourth of July, Harper said.
“We had two heat waves this summer—one in July and one at the end of August. That took a lot of life out of hayfields and pastures,” he explained. “I was up at the west end of Goochland County last weekend, and people are baling hay and pastures are great. But you go one county north to Orange and it’s dry, dry, dry.”
The good news for corn growers is the dry conditions have allowed them to harvest quickly this fall. As of early September, 45% of the state’s corn for grain harvest was complete, compared to a five-year average of 24%. Corn harvest for silage was at 79%.
“Most of them have not had to stop,” Harper said. “And without a lot of rain events, the corn has dried down in the field. That encourages them to keep the combines rolling. Those who have bins to dry their corn are basically done.”
–Virginia Farm Bureau