Rain: first too much, then not enough, could mean lower yields for county farmers

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With county tobacco being cut and left to dry in the fields, and other county crops nearing harvest, many Switzerland County farmers are fearing that untimely rain could mean lower yields – which will mean smaller profits at market.

Chuck Deputy of the Switzerland County Farm Service Agency office, said that his office is seeing average to below average conditions for this year’s crop. Heavy rains early in the planting season prevented farmers from getting in the fields; then a stretch of no rain and very hot temperatures during peek growing times hampered what was growing.

“We went from one extreme to the other,” Chuck Deputy said.

Although specific details won’t be known until farmers actually get into the fields and begin harvesting, Chuck Deputy said that the rain – and then the lack of rain – came at critical times .

“Timing was a big problem, which is something that you can’t control,” Chuck Deputy said. “The hot weather and dry conditions were a problem, but the timing of when we got those conditions was critical for our farmers.”

Chuck Deputy said that conditions are pretty much spread countywide, but noted that farmland around the Patriot area, where farmers see more sandy soil conditions, weren’t affected by the heavy early rains like their counterparts in other areas of the county.

The county’s corn crop will probably see the hardest effects of the weather, because the hot and dry conditions came at the time of pollination, which impacts how the cob fills out with kernels, according to Chuck Deputy. Not as many kernels on the cob means less yield at the time of sale – but just how much less corn their is won’t be known until harvest is in full swing in October.

As for soybeans, Chuck Deputy said that beans won’t be hurt as badly as corn, but the hot and dry conditions could mean smaller beans inside the pod – or fewer beans inside the pod.

“Everyone’s saying that the beans are going to be pretty small, because the weather caused them to not mature like they should,” he said. “We probably won’t know how bad the crop is until farmers get out in the fields and start running combines. Then we’ll have a better idea of where we stand with this year’s crops.”

Chuck Deputy said that normally harvest for corn and soybeans is in full gear by the first of October, but there may be some crops that were planted earlier that could be harvested by the end of September.

As corn and soybeans struggle in the hot and dry conditions, Chuck Deputy said that tobacco tends to like hot, dry weather – so this year’s burley crop is looking pretty good.

“Actually, tobacco tends to weigh better in hot and dry conditions,” Chuck Deputy said. “Tobacco likes dry weather much more than wet weather.”

He says that most of what he’s seen to this point has been a pretty good tobacco crop; and his reports say that this year the crop overall should be average to above average. Unlike previous years, disease infesting tobacco plants hasn’t been a problem, so signs appear to be good for a profitable burley crop.

The county’s hay crop was also hurt by the hot and dry weather.

Chuck Deputy said that many farmers around the county got a good first cut early in the season; but those farmers with grass hay crops haven’t been able to get a second cutting off of those fields, yet.

“The grass was hurt worse than fields with alfalfa or with mixed crops,” he said. “Hopefully farmers will be able to get another cutting off of the fields.”

As for livestock, Chuck Deputy says that he hasn’t heard of any problems at this point in the year. He said that dry conditions and lack of hay caused some farmers to sell off cattle last year, but that doesn’t appear to be happening this year.

“Overall, we’ll just have to wait and see how everything comes out when the farmers actually get in the fields and see what they’ve got,” Chuck Deputy said. “With the crop up, it’s hard to see into the middle of the fields and see wet spots and other places, so everybody’s just waiting to see what happens.”