Some grow­ers forced to re­plant crops; others can’t

RAIN­FALL DAMP­ENS OUT­LOOK FOR VIR­GINIA FARM­ERS

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - FRONT PAGE - BY ALEXAN­DRA CLINE

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

SHELBY LUM/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

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.

SHELBY LUM/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

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.

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