Drought conditions affect Western Tidewater crops

Published 9:30 pm Friday, July 5, 2024

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The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality coordinated with the Virginia Drought Monitoring Task Force to issue a drought watch advisory June 24 for a list of 95 counties and cities that includes Southampton County, Isle of Wight County and Suffolk.

In a July 3 interview, Southampton County Farm Bureau President Gary Cross summed up drought conditions for the county and the surrounding area: “It’s been pretty severe.”

He said, “The temperatures don’t usually get to the point that we’ve seen them for the last week to 10 days in June. It’s not uncommon to see them in July and August, but it’s quite unusual to see such hot weather in June.”

Adam Hartman, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration contact for the U.S. Drought Monitor, stated that drought conditions in Virginia were brought on by several weeks of hot and dry weather.

“Since the start of June, much of the state has received less than 50% of what is considered normal for the month, with large pockets across the Piedmont and the Blue Ridge receiving less than 25% of their normal precipitation,” he stated. “When coupled with several rounds of excessive heat, even record heat in some cases, in recent weeks, it has resulted in stream flows running well below normal and the rapid loss of soil moisture. Virginia is a little worse off (than) surrounding regions because the dryness actually goes a little beyond the last month, particularly in upstate (basically the Fall Line westward).”

Cross said most of the people he is talking to in the realm of agriculture agree that this past June was “about the driest June they can remember.”

“It used to not be so uncommon — I’d say 20 years ago — for a June to be kind of dry,” Cross said. “But for whatever reason, the past 10 or 12 years have been good rainfall in June.”

As a result, he said he believes June 2024 is going to be reported as one of the driest Junes in a long time.


“You’ve kind of got to look at the whole ball of wax when you talk about impacts, and I can speak to my personal experience,” Cross said, “but we experienced some rather wet weather during planting season, and it postponed us from getting the crop in the ground and getting it going, at least the corn crop.

“So if the corn crop didn’t get planted on time and it was delayed over three weeks from what we usually start at, that corn has really suffered the worst because it didn’t have the root system it needed to grab moisture from down below,” he said. “It was tasseling and trying to make an ear all at the same time when we’ve had all this dry weather.”

He noted that high heat by itself will hurt the pollination on corn. 

“So between the high heat and the lack of moisture, the corn crop (in) some places won’t even get picked,” he said. “There’s just nothing there.”

But he also noted that some corn that experienced a timely planting may have a chance to produce a decent crop.

“It’s not going to be a bumper crop,” he said. “I have heard reports of some real late planted corn that wasn’t at that critical stage yet, and this (June 30-July 1) rain that we’ve had has done it good.”

Cross acknowledged that all over the area, like any year, there are going to be pockets of farmland where people were fortunate enough to catch a rain that helps them produce a fair crop.

“And then there’s large areas and really outreaching that’s really going to be hit severely on the corn crop,” he said.

Then he addressed the status of peanut and cotton crops in the area.

“Peanuts tend to survive well this time of the year in dry conditions,” he said. “Yes, they need some water to grow, of course, but a peanut and cotton, they’ll survive in drier conditions. But we’re heading into that time of that production that those crops are going to need water as well for fruiting and tagging, such as cotton and peanuts do.”

He said that by July 3, cotton should be knee-high and ready to bloom.

“Unfortunately, it’s halfway to your knee in a lot of situations, and we’re just behind what’s in a normal year,” he said.

For the farmers who chose to plant their cotton in an early warm week that took place at the end of April this year, Cross said, “That cotton is really ahead of everybody else’s, but only time will tell how it catches timely rains between now and harvest.”


Cross indicated that corn crops are significantly affected by the drought conditions right now and could use rain immediately.

“Corn will take all the water you can get it at this stage,” he said on July 3. “If we don’t get rain for another week to 10 days, then even that corn that looks good and is green and has got a small ear on it is not going to fill out with kernels.”

For peanut and cotton crops, he said, “Timely rains the last of July and the first of August will set a good crop and hold the crop.”

While he does not expect a bumper crop for corn this year, he still expressed some optimism for all the aforementioned crops.

“We’re really too early to throw in the towel on anything unless it’s that real burnt-up corn that we just know got fired up from top to bottom and is brown,” he said.


Cross offered insight into the level of a farmer’s investment in a given crop at this point in the year.

“By now, this time of the year, we have dumped all the money that we’re going to dump into a crop in there,” he said. “We’ve had to fertilize it and plant it and bring it along — we’ve got 90% of our investment in the crop right now.”

And he noted that like every year, “it’s only the timely rains that we get on whichever crop it is that makes us either go into the red or the black. But all my money is out there right now. I’ve got very little expenditures left.” 


Hartman stated in a July 3 email that it is hard to say for certain how long the drought will continue since summertime rainfall can be highly localized in nature.

“Even frontal boundaries that move through and produce lines of thunderstorms can be hit-and-miss or be rapidly moving and last a short duration so that areas do not receive adequate precipitation for the week as a whole,” he said.

He also noted that the words “adequate precipitation” have a caveat connected to them when a region is dealing with hot summertime temperatures. 

“During the summer months the rate at which moisture evaporates from land and vegetation surfaces (known as evapotranspiration) is increased,” he said. “So if temperatures are high enough during the week for a given location and evapotranspiration rates are increased, it will mean that they will need to make that difference up when the rains finally do come in order to improve soil moisture conditions.” 

He stated that although people in the area can likely expect some precipitation regionally over the next few weeks, it is difficult to be precise about where and how much a given location will receive. 

“So conditions may worsen for some and improve for others,” he said.

He indicated that Climate Prediction Center 6-10 day and 8-14 day outlooks, found at www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/, do indicate “a weak tilt toward above-normal precipitation chances across much of the east over the next two weeks; however, again it is hard to say where and how much precipitation will fall with any certainty.”