Some growers forced to replant crops; others can’t
RAINFALL DAMPENS OUTLOOK FOR VIRGINIA FARMERS
Chuck McGhee couldn’t have predicted the 15 inches of rain that fell on his farmland in eastern Hanover County over the past month, but he’s well aware of its impact.
His farm lost about 55 acres of corn that was already knee-high, about 10 percent of his acreage for that crop. Now it’s too late to replant.
“It was a lot at one time,” said McGhee, owner of Grainfield LLC. “Our fields were pretty inundated with water. We’ve passed the time of year when you can plant corn and expect to have top yield.”
Farmers across Virginia have faced similar circumstances after the widespread heavy rainfall, which brought upward of a foot of rain to parts of the Richmond metro area in the past month,
according to the National Weather Service. Some areas saw two to three times the normal rainfall over that period.
The financial impact of the rainfall on crops in Virginia is still up in the air, said Norm Hyde, a spokesman for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. Depending on future weather, the quality and yield of various crops could change drastically.
Strawberry production and picking have suffered because of the rains.
Steve Gallmeyer of Gallmeyer Farms in eastern Henrico County closed his pick-your-own strawberry picking operations on June 3 — early for the season — because of the excess water.
“We had nearly 20 inches of rain in a threeweek period during peak ripening and production period,” he said. “It pushed too much water into the ripe fruit.”
Though Gallmeyer said the farm usually closes in early to mid-June, the rain throughout May significantly reduced the yields and the time visitors could spend at the pick-yourown strawberry patch.
“People don’t come out and pick in the rain, but fruit doesn’t stop ripening because it’s raining,” he said. “All during the time span that people would’ve been there picking nice ripe berries, fruits were rotting.”
He estimates that the rain has resulted in about an 80 percent loss in sales.
Other farmers also have endured delays in planting certain crops, particularly soybeans.
Those crops should be planted in late April to early May, but some farmers are either still waiting to plant seedlings or have to replant them because of wet fields.
Jim Jennings, president of J.F. Leaf Ltd., said his farm in Mecklenburg County has been forced to push back some of its soybean planting. Though he was able to plant some seedlings before the heavy rains, those crops could be damaged.
“When they come through all that water, they just don’t look as good,” said Jennings, whose farm also grows tobacco and wheat. “It’s like anything that goes through added stress
— it has a hard time recovering. It can recover, but it has to have good conditions.”
Glenn Rodes, who owns and operates Riverhill Farms with his family in the Shenandoah Valley, said corn planting and haymaking also were delayed at his farm after a lengthy period of rain.
“Everything was kind of at a standstill for a number of weeks,” said Rodes, whose farm also grows soybeans, wheat, alfalfa and barley. “The main issue is getting into the field. We can’t get the equipment into the field.”
Given the delay in haymaking, which largely should have been done three or four weeks ago, the quality of the product could go down, he said.
But the rain has also been beneficial for some of the crops that were planted early on.
David Hula, who has broken national records for bushels of corn per acre at his farms, said his corn crop this year has fared well so far because his farms in Henrico, Charles City and James City counties were spared from the severe flooding that overwhelmed other parts of Virginia.
“Some neighbors — their corn was underwater for days,” he said. “If it’s sitting in water-saturated soil, the seedling starts to rot or die. We didn’t experience that.”
Though soil varies in its composition and holds moisture differently, each type has a threshold for the moisture level it can absorb, said Maria Balota, an associate professor at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech.
The ideal situation is to have soil that hasn’t reached 100 percent of its water-holding capacity, but 80 percent. That way the plants have oxygen available for roots to grow.
“Rainfall has a significant effect on yield and production,” she said. “It affects differently each crop and the varieties within each crop. Water by far is the most important factor for crops to grow.”
Extreme weather, including flooding and drought, can have major effects on the quality and yield of crops.
But flooding can often be the greater of those two evils for farmers, said Elaine Lidholm, the director of communications at the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
“I think a lot of people think that farmers love rain, and they do, in the correct amount,” she said. “One farmer I spoke to this week said, ‘You can always add water during a drought, but you can’t take it away during flooding.’”
The weather might also cause problems for wine grapes, she said. Though grapes on vines won’t be flooded like ground crops, the excess moisture can cause fungi growth and plant diseases.
“We don’t know what other kind of weather we’ll get, but this has been a very hard hit because [farmers] are either planting or harvesting, or things are just rotting on the vine,” Lidholm said.
For Steve Berryman, owner of College Run Farms in Surry County, the rain has forced him to replant dozens of acres of soybeans and cotton, which takes a considerable amount of time.
“We will have to replant about 100 acres of soybeans that never came up and about 65 to 70 acres of cotton,” said Berryman, who also grows strawberries, blueberries and peanuts. He said the rain sealed the ground and prevented the seedlings from growing.
Even with replanting, yields will be smaller as the growing season becomes shorter, said McGhee, the farmer from eastern Hanover.
“If you already have an established crop and then you lose the crop that’s drowned out and you have to go back and replant, you have crops at two different stages in that field,” he said. “Later crops never yield as well as earlier ones. And you have the extra cost of seed and herbicide.”
Despite some crop failure and lower yield potential, Gallmeyer from the pick-your-own strawberry farm in Henrico said farmers are accustomed to unfavorable conditions and will remain positive — either about next year’s crops or about this year’s unaffected ones.
“There never seems to be a perfect year in all crops,” he said. “If we weren’t optimists, we wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning.”
“We had nearly 20 inches of rain in a three-week period during peak ripening and production period.” Steve Gallmeyer, with Gallmeyer Farms in eastern Henrico County
Chuck McGhee has lost about 55 acres of corn on his Hanover County farm to the heavy rain that has hit Virginia in the past month. “We’ve passed the time of year when you can plant corn and expect to have top yield,” he said.
Water floods a field of soybeans at Chuck McGhee’s farm in Hanover County. The farm has been subjected to 15 inches of rain over the past month. Even with replanting, “later crops never yield as well as earlier ones,” he said.