Heat tough on crops

Published 12:49 pm Wednesday, August 17, 2016

As soil moisture drops, plan stress increases

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Isle of Wight County farmers are watching their crops carefully as the heat continues — and are hoping that rain predicted later this week arrives in adequate amounts.

Rex Alphin, who farms near Walters, said the season got off to a slow start in May with unusually cool and wet conditions, but until the latest heat spell, temperatures and precipitation had been good.

Corn is made at this point in the season, now it’s peanuts and cotton that are in the fruit-forming stage, he said.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

As long as there is moisture in the soil, it’s not a problem, Alphin said. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

In Isle of Wight, soybeans, cotton and corn are the most prevalent row crop, at 15,431, 10,037 and 9,979 acres planted this year, respectively, according to Farm Service Agency Executive Director Glen Pierce

Jimmy Oliver, who farms near Longview, said the heat is helping the cotton mature, but it still needs water.

When it comes to the heat, Oliver’s main concern is his butter bean crop.

Oliver said he can’t get the beans to set pods when it’s this hot. Oliver, who made five plantings of beans this season, is watering the latest batch, but it needs some heat relief.

The farm has a lot of orders and people don’t understand how dependent the crop is on the weather, he said. 

Jake Browder, who grows a variety of vegetables for his business, Browder’s Fresh Pickins, said the heat is preventing his tomatoes from pollinating.

Browder said he even went out to the field and tried to aid pollination with an electric toothbrush, to no avail.

On the flip side, Browder irrigated his sweet potato crop this year, so those are fine.

Besides, sweet potatoes like the heat, he said.

Alphin said it’s possible to measure soil moisture with a tensiometer, but because conditions can vary within each field, it’s better to read the plant.

“The crop will tell you if it’s thirsty,” he said. 

Isle of Wight County Extension Agent Janet Spencer said that right now, cotton is setting bolls, peanuts are developing and a good portion of soybeans are, or will be, setting pods.

“They are at a point when long stretches of dry weather can significantly impact yields, so we hope to see more rain soon,” she said.

As of Monday, there was a 40-50 percent chance of rain predicted beginning tonight and into Thursday night.

Alphin said he expects this year’s harvest to be pretty good — as long as there are no hurricanes.

“We can live to farm another year,” he said.  {/mprestriction}