Drought-ravaged Isle of Wight asks Kaine for help

Published 10:23 pm Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Expected shortfalls in this year’s corn, soybean and hay harvest due to lingering drought in Isle of Wight County have pressed the Board of Supervisors to ask Gov. Timothy M. Kaine to declare the county an agricultural disaster area. The board took the action at its Sept. 18 meeting.

“Some areas of the county have been hit worse than others,” said Nathan O’Berry, the county’s agricultural extension agent.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, most of Isle of Wight County is considered “abnormally dry.” The southern tip of the county dips into a band of moderate drought beginning in Mecklenburg County and running eastward to Virginia Beach. A strip of severe drought, the next level of drought severity, runs along the North Carolina state line from Southampton County to Virginia Beach. Just under half of the state is in some form of drought condition, mostly in the south and west.

O’Berry said that in Isle of Wight County it appeared corn was being harvested at about 65 to 70 bushels per acre, a smaller yield than the 5-year average of 88 bushels, and far less than the ideal yield of 100 bushels. There are 8,001 acres of corn in the county.

It was too early to tell just how the drought has affected the county’s 22,000-plus acres of soybeans. O’Berry said some farmers had decided in June to start replanting soybeans because of the drought. “Some of the soybeans that were replanted came up,” he said, “but some still did not come up.”

O’Berry, of the Virginia Cooperative Extension, met with representatives from the Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service before making the recommendation to the county board that they ask the governor to declare the county an agricultural disaster area. If that happens, county farmers will be able to receive low-interest loans.

Data from the National Weather Service in Wakefield shows that rainfall in most of Isle of Wight County was 1 to 3 inches below normal for both June and July, but conditions worsened slightly in the western part of the county in August, falling to 3 to 4 inches below normal. September rains brought a return to the normal rain level in the western half of the county, but eastern Isle of Wight remained an inch or 2 short.

All told, 1 to 2 inches of rain covered most of the county in June, 2 to 3 fell in July, and a mix of measurements were reported across Isle of Wight in both August and September, with some areas receiving only an inch and others getting more than 4.

“The western part of the county, by Surry, has been drier,” said O’Berry. “They didn’t get the timely rains that the eastern part of the county has received.”