Rain, please

Published 9:58 am Wednesday, July 7, 2010

FRANKLIN—It’s been at least 25 years since Walt Young experienced a summer as dry as this one.

Young lost half of his peanut and corn crops that year and a third of his soybeans.

Now he’s worried about this year’s harvest given that Western Tidewater has gone month without a significant rainfall. Another week without rain could mean a total loss of his 100 acres of corn. In addition, 10 to 20 percent of his soybean plants are dying.

“We’re at a critical stage right now,” said Young, whose fields are between Franklin and Courtland. “The peanuts are hurting and the soybeans are starting to die. It’s tough to swallow.”

The lack of rain means farmers like Young are probably already experiencing losses to their corn crop, said Janet Spencer, a Virginia Agriculture Extension Agent with Isle of Wight County.

“It’s extremely dry right now to the point that we will probably start to see crop loss for grains such as corn,” Spencer said Tuesday. “If we start getting rain, other crops will probably be OK.”

She was referring to cotton, soybeans and peanuts.

With only a slight chance of rain forecast for Thursday and a slightly better chance on Saturday, it doesn’t look like the situation will improve, she said.

“The forecast is looking pretty dry right now,” Spencer said.

According to the National Weather Service, there is a 30 percent chance of rain on Thursday with rainfall of less than 1/10 of an inch. Daytime highs for the next seven days call for anywhere from 91 to 100 degrees.

Several days of record-breaking temperatures that hovered around 100 in late June didn’t help matters, Spencer said.

“It’s just like humans. Hot weather can take a toll on crops as well,” she said. “(When it’s hot, crops) have to give off more water and can start to shut down as well. We are in extreme desperate need for rain.”

Farmer M.L. Everett is more optimistic when he checks his crops at 6 a.m. By 2 p.m., when the thermostat hits close to 100, that optimism wanes.

“When you get up early, you will notice a little dew on the plants. It kind of freshens things up,” Everett said. “When I ride around this time of day (mid-afternoon), they (the plants) are in a defensive mode — trying to protect themselves from the heat.”

The primary crop on his 1,500-acre farm five miles north of Capron is 900 acres of cotton.

“Cotton is a tropical plant,” said Everett, who has been farming for 32 years. “It’s able to withstand extreme temperatures — better than peanuts, corn and soybeans.”

He also returned to planting peanuts this year due to improved demand.

“The plants are extremely small for this time of year,” Everett said.

On a positive note, the peanuts covering 165 acres on his farm have developed a tremendous root mass searching for moisture.

“If we are lucky enough to get a good soaking rain, we should see a good growth for plants,” he said.

Everett wants to remain optimistic about the chance of rain.

“Some say we’re one day closer to rain,” he said. “That’s a good way to look at it — knowing that we’re one day closer.”