Spring planting under way

Published 9:46 am Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Henry Nurney works the fields on his Courtland farm Monday. While weather conditions seem to be better for planting this year, higher costs threaten to cut into his profits. -- Dale Liesch | Tidewater News

COURTLAND—Courtland farmer Henry Nurney is pleased with the amount of rain his fields have received thus far this spring, yet he remains realistic.

“We can get rain right now, but if we don’t get rain when the crops are coming up, it could be as bad as last year,” Nurney said.

On the heels of one of the worst droughts in 50 years, better crop yields could be around the corner for farmers like Nurney, who will plant around 1,400 acres of cotton.

The drought that negatively affected traditional crops last year — leading to about a 20 percent yield of corn — has now given way to less-dry conditions in southeast Virginia, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

A lessening of drought conditions and an increase in commodity prices has growers thinking optimistically about the start of the season.

Southampton County Cooperative Extension Agent Neil Clark said Wednesday that with prices up significantly this year compared to last year, growers could get by with lower yields.

“Prices are up, and that’s going to help them pull out of what happened last year,” Clark said. “Last year a lot went in the hole.”

Gov. Bob McDonnell was forced to ask for federal assistance due to the impact local farmers felt because of drought conditions last year. Specifically, last year’s corn crop was devastated.

Clark added that weather conditions are better for planting this year as growers have seen more precipitation at the right time.

“Early on we’re actually sitting OK,” Clark said. “We got a shot of rain here and there.”

He said it has been just about the right amount of rain for planting — not too much and not too little.

“You want to be able to get your equipment out, but you don’t want to be planting in dust,” Clark said.

However, the real answer to a successful season could come in a few weeks when plants are in the ground, he said.

“We’ll be looking for another little boost then,” Clark said.

Growers have also prepared for the possibility of drier conditions by planting more cotton than other traditional crops this year.

“Cotton doesn’t suffer as much in drought,” Nurney said. “That’s one reason why cotton is going to be fairly attractive this year.”

Growers like Nurney see a potential for good yields this year, but remain cautious, as fuel, fertilizer and seed prices are higher than last year. Nunnery said the rising costs are threatening to cut into profits.

“It’s a mixed bag,” he said. “It’s one of those iffy situations.”