Extreme Heat Creates New Wave of Problems for Farmers

withered-ground-1097016After surviving late spring frosts and a soaking start to summer, weather is again testing Virginia’s farmers as the threat of drought looms over most of the state.

As recently as July 5, the National Agricultural Statistics Service reported some topsoil and subsoil in Virginia showed a moisture surplus. But the NASS crop report for the week ending July 19 indicated the surplus had quickly evaporated.

According to the report, topsoil moisture is short or very short for 72% of the state, and 63% of subsoil moisture is the same. With dry conditions aligning with a prolonged period of extreme heat, some farmers and their crops are beginning to feel the strain.

“For a lot of people, we’ve gone from having excessive rain to almost drought conditions overnight,” said Jonathan Wood, a beef, hay and produce farmer in Patrick County. “We’re hurting, but we’re not that bad yet. Last summer was a little worse—we didn’t get rain from early June until August.”

Wood noted that his farm received measurable rain just once in the past month, leading to mixed crop yields. The heat wave has allowed cherries and peaches to come in early, but some of his other crops are beginning to show signs of stress.

“Anything that’s not ready for harvest is starting to suffer from the excessive heat and the drought,” Wood said.

The July 19 crop report also found that 11% of Virginia’s corn and fire-cured and flue-cured tobacco were in very poor condition. Additionally, poor crop conditions for corn, pasture, fire-cured tobacco and soybeans all exceeded 20%.

Orange County Farm Bureau president Andy Hutchison said drought damage is already evident in the county, and local cornfields that had “huge yield potential” earlier this summer are suffering.

Hutchison, who grows sod in Orange County and near Charlottesville, said his Charlottesville field hasn’t had rain in six weeks and is struggling without moisture.

Along with many other farmers facing losses due to drought, Hutchison is hopeful rainfall will be forthcoming.

“Rain would absolutely be huge for farmers,” he said. “Even an inch of rain would certainly provide a great deal of relief on a whole lot of crops. And, if we could follow that up with another inch a week or so later, it would do a world of good.”

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