Farms take stock after Irene

Published 9:38 am Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Cotton plants near Newsoms remain mangled on Sunday after Hurricane Irene's 12 inches of rain brought wind gusts of up to 59 mph on Saturday. Southampton County experienced about $6.7 million in agricultural damages. -- Gwen Albers | Tidewater News

COURTLAND—Hurricane Irene’s 12 inches of rain and wind gusts of up to 59 mph did roughly $6.7 million in agricultural damage to Western Tidewater.

Wind damaged about 15 percent of the county’s row-crop acreage, with cotton being the hardest hit, said Chris Drake, Virginia Cooperative Extension agent.

“Thankfully, they (the bolls) were not as opened,” Drake said. “The loss would have been more catastrophic.”

Yield loss will come from ground spraying through the cotton fields, picking and plants lying on the ground, which can result in rot.

The wind messed up the cotton rows farmers need for spraying and harvesting. So rather than following rows, some may use GPS guidance to spray across rows.

“We’ll probably see some people resort to aerial spray,” Drake said.

That can cost $7 to $12 per acre, which is not much more than ground spraying.

Sunny weather and time are needed to get the cotton to stand up and ready for harvesting.

“It could have been a lot worse,” he said. “There’s still potential for a good crop.”

Farmers had harvested a lot of corn, and what remains “is remarkably fairly erect and with minimal loss.”

“Overall, damage in corn is fairly minimal,” Drake said. “Ten to 15 percent. Peanuts and soybeans have extremely minimal loss. The rain was beneficial to them.”

Bob Marks, who farms east of Capron on Pope Station Road, said Monday it’s hard to tell how much damage Irene did.

“I know it’s going to be some,” Marks said. “But to what extent, I’m not sure.”

Marks devotes 950 acres to cotton, 350 acres to soybeans, 150 acres to peanuts and 90 acres to watermelons.

The storm knocked down a lot of the cotton, Marks said. It remains to be seen how much will stand back up. Meanwhile, there’s a lot of trees and fences to be cleaned up.

M.L. Everett Jr. of Capron, who farms 1,500 acres, said Irene’s aftermath is going to be tough.

“A lot of trees fell.” Everett said. “Within a mile radius of the farmland, 20 trees. It’s challenging to get them out.”

Cotton, his primary crop, didn’t fare too badly. However, the wind has laid, twisted and tangled it all.

Based on past experience, Everett’s hoping that once defoliation takes place, the bolls will open and stand up some. The larger challenge will be keeping up with where the rows are.

He said 14 inches of rain fell at Joyner.

Some bolls are starting to crack, and he’s concerned about boll rot. Sunshine and air are much needed.

Everett, who lost 10 percent of his corn, suggested farmers harvest as soon as possible before deterioration.


As of early Monday afternoon, Janet Spencer had assessed about one-third of the crop damage in Isle of Wight County.

“We’ve been very fortunate with this storm,” said Spencer, the county’s agricultural extension agent. “There’s been very minor structural damage, fences hit from fallen trees.”

Windsor and Smithfield got 8 to 9 inches of rain. One farmer in Zuni told her he got 8½ inches.

“For crops (like) peanuts and soybeans, (they) should be unaffected; they probably benefited,” said Spencer. “With cotton — gathering from farmers — (there is) about a 20 to 25 percent loss.”

She added that mangling caused by the wind is an issue for that crop.

“Corn, surprisingly, is pickable, with a 10 to 15 percent loss,” Spencer said.

The full story for Isle of Wight won’t be known for several weeks.

“We won’t know the full extent until farmers actually harvest,” she said.

Robbie Taylor, who farms with Dean Stallings in Smithfield down through Chuckatuck, called the rain a blessing.

“We needed the rain,” Taylor said.

He figured that 8.2 to 10.3 inches fell on his crops and added that the soybeans are really saturated.

“What hurt was the wind; it really damaged the cotton,” Taylor said. “Blew it down, tangled it up. You can’t tell north, south, east or west” as far as row direction.

He could possibly use a GPS to stay on the rows.

“It’ll be a nightmare to defoliate,” Taylor said.

For crops, this means forcing them through spraying to lose leaves so that the bolls may blossom.

Taylor said that if more rain doesn’t become an issue, then ground equipment could be used. It’s too soon to tell if an airplane could be used to spray. He figured the cost would be $10 to $12 per acre.

Right now, though, he and Stallings are spending most of the time working on fences because of so many trees down.

“They made a mess with the fences,” he said. “Another challenge we farmers are faced with.”