APPOMATTOX, Va. — Dropping over a foot of snow in some Virginia localities, an early-January storm stole national headlines and wreaked havoc throughout the mid-Atlantic.
Though the storm left many travelers stranded and hundreds of thousands without power in Virginia, the plentiful precipitation came at a crucial time for the state’s grain farmers.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service December crop report, Virginia entered 2022 with “abnormally dry to severe drought conditions” across the state.
NASS statistics also indicated the Lynchburg and Norfolk regions each ended 2021 with precipitation deficits of 8.8 inches compared to normal annual precipitation totals. The Roanoke area recorded a 4.4-inch deficit, and Northern Virginia ended the year with a 7.9-inch shortage.
Only the Richmond region saw above-average precipitation last year, with a 2.5-inch surplus.
As small-grain crops begin to emerge in some areas of Virginia, farmers said the influx of moisture came at a pivotal time.
“We’ve been really dry. It was one of the driest falls I can remember,” said grain producer Glenn Dye, who farms in Appomattox, Fauquier and Stafford counties. “We definitely needed more moisture for the fall crops and some subsoil moisture for the spring crops, and the snow we got definitely helped the crops that are in the field.”
Dye, who also serves on the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Soybean and Feed Grains Advisory Committee, skipped planting winter wheat this year, opting instead to plant rye as a cover crop.
Before the Jan. 3 storm, Dye said the crop was “hanging on,” but he wasn’t sure it would remain healthy enough to benefit the soil for spring planting. However, the storm brought between 8 and 9 inches of snow to his Appomattox property and 13 inches to Stafford, which allowed the crop to rebound.
“(The snow and rain) we’ve had has been beneficial,” Dye added, noting he and other Virginia grain farmers saw additional rain and snow on Jan. 6 and 7. “Any moisture is a good thing at this point.”
Bedford County grain farmer W.P. Johnson said he and other nearby farmers struggled to plant small grains in the fall due to soil aridity.
Johnson planted oats and wheat, and said he only managed to get his seeds deep enough in the ground because he recently rebuilt his planters’ drill. With the benefit of moisture from the Jan. 3 storm—he received 4 inches of wintry mix on his farm—each crop is progressing well.
“The moisture from the snow really pulled out our small grain crops and let them emerge, and I can actually see what kind of stand I have,” he said. “Without the snow, I don’t know my emergence would have been what it is. We got lucky.”
–Virginia Farm Bureau