Virginia farmers settle into the 2016 summer growing season

Published 10:21 am Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The heat is on for Virginia farmers as summertime temperatures and weather patterns settle in.

Many growers are welcoming the warmth after a wetter-than-average spring and freeze damage in April.

A June 20 crop progress report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture noted that topsoil moisture conditions around the state remain good, with 86 percent of farmland reporting adequate or surplus moisture. Subsoil moisture levels also are quite high, meaning crops should have plenty of moisture to survive heat.

There are still lingering effects, however, from spring’s heavy freezes. As season begins, 51 percent of the state’s peach crop is expected to be in poor or very poor condition.

“There’s some peaches in the area, some growers have half a crop, some as little as 15 percent,” said John Marker, owner of Marker-Miller Orchards in Frederick County. “It won’t be a big crop, but there will be peaches this summer. Even up into they have the same situation. Those last two hard in April killed a lot of blossoms.”

After several weeks of delays for spring planting and hay cutting, growers have pretty much caught up on field work, according to the report. Soybean planting is well behind the average pace, but corn growers reported the majority of their seeds are planted and growing well. Many grain growers in Eastern Virginia also are harvesting winter wheat this month. A June 13 USDA report predicted the 2016 wheat harvest would be down 16 percent statewide.

“I just started harvesting yesterday. Yields are down, and the market is still not very favorable,” said Mike Bryant, president of Northumberland-Lancaster County Farm Bureau. “Many farmers didn’t plant as much wheat last because there’s not a lot of profit in wheat right now. Plus we’ve had a really wet spring, a lot of disease pressures, so if you didn’t take care of might see more problems.

“But we’re having rain, and the corn and soybeans are looking good right now,” he added.

Rain in May also put hay growers behind schedule. But weather patterns were different in far Southwest Virginia, and growers are pleased.

“Our hay cutting was pretty good in Washington County. A lot of farmers are saying it was the best we ever had,” said Mindy McCroskey, a Washington County beef cattle producer and agriculture education teacher.

“It’s pretty dry right now, but the first cutting quality was good. Most people here started cutting around the last of May.

We had off-and-on showers but nothing that held us up for days at a time.”

In addition to harvesting hay and wheat, other farmers are fertilizing their new corn crops, and vegetable growers reported the moisture is helping their crops thrive.