Friday’s rainfall was a farm boost after long dry spell

Published 10:28 am Wednesday, April 5, 2017

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

It rained Friday.

The steady downpour of more than an inch of rain was a welcome event for local farmers who have watched the warm and relatively dry winter with some concern.

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“I’m sitting on the couch watching it rain and having a good cup of coffee,” said Benns Church area farmer Robby Taylor, whose 100 acres of wheat was beginning to become a bit parched of late.

Taylor said the pond behind his house was down more than two feet from last winter.

“This is a welcome relief,” he said. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Despite the rain on Friday, the area is still below normal for the year — and just three months in, according to the National Weather Service.

Isle of Wight County Extension Agent Janet Spencer said the dry winter hasn’t been a problem overall as of yet, but if it persists through the upcoming planting season, that could cause concern. 

Another week or so of insufficient rain could generate activity on the drought monitor, she said, adding that newly planted corn, peanuts and cotton need rain to germinate.

Corn is due to be planted any day now, Spencer said.

Rainfall has been about three inches below normal this winter in Richmond and Norfolk, according to the Virginia Farm Bureau.

 “We’ve been in a pattern this winter where the storms have tracked from our west and up into the Northeast and dragged drier air into (Virginia),” said Jerry Stenger, director of the Virginia State Office of Climatology.

“The little bit of snow we got in March from a coastal storm is an example of the type of rain systems we really need right away. We’re hopeful that was a harbinger of a change in storm patterns. We are rapidly getting close to the end of cold weather, and if we don’t get substantial rainfall before the growing season starts in earnest, the outlook is not good at all,” he said.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor for March 28, the eastern portion of Virginia is not considered in a drought, although the western portion is moderately so for the short-term.

Cecil Byrum is also growing wheat this year.

He likes to stay positive, but the recent dry pattern has caught his attention. For him, a dry April and a wet May will set his crop.

The dry weather means less disease and a more efficient use of fertilizer, Byrum said.

“We’re excited about the potential of the wheat crop,” he said.

However, it’s not the lack of rain but rather prices that are causing the main problem for wheat this year.

This year, Taylor is only growing wheat as a cover crop.

“I couldn’t pencil in a profit this year,” he said of abysmal wheat prices, adding that he used to grow 1,000 acres.

Spencer said prices on other typical Isle of Wight crops — corn and cotton — were also depressed. Soybean prices are still O.K. and there may be more peanuts planted this year, she said.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac calls for a rainier than normal April and May and a cooler and rainier than normal June for the mid-Atlantic region.

On the flip side, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts above-normal temperatures for much of the United State,s and the Farmer’s Almanac spies bouts of rain in April and May — the only months available free online.

Taylor doesn’t take much stock in long-range forecasts.

Weather is hard enough to predict from one day to the next, he said.

Byrum said rainfall in Isle of Wight County, which consists of more than three hundred square miles, is remarkably inconsistent.

“It’s unbelievable how it can rain in one area” and not the other, he said, adding that some of his best crops were grown in dry years.

Meanwhile, Spencer is looking ahead and hoping for sufficient rain — which in farmer parlance is about an inch a week.

“I hope we’re not looking at a dry summer,” she said.  {/mprestriction}