By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: Sept 27, 2017 | 2:57 p.m.
DINWIDDIE – Following a year where much of the Commonwealth saw both extremes in terms of weather, officials are expecting that to keep farmers’ harvests in fairly typical ranges for a given year.
In an interview, Dinwiddie Cooperative Extension agent Mike Parrish said that he expects the county’s harvest to be average following bouts of drought and periods of heavy rain during the course of the growing year.
According to data from the United State Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Drought Monitor, entering 2017, nearly 71 percent of the Commonwealth was considered “abnormally dry,” with a much smaller percentage, roughly 15 percent, falling into the “moderate drought” designation.
Rainfall analysis from the National Weather Service office in Wakefield showed through much of the winter months, monthly rainfall ranged from less than two inches to as much as six inches across Dinwiddie County, a trend that carried through much of the spring into to the early summer.
Parrish explained during dry conditions, the plant’s root system is going to be smaller and not as robust as it would be under ideal growing conditions, with some crops, like peanut and soybean, being late for harvest.
While he noted the impact of the dry spells in the region, recent heavy rainfall has also had its share of positives and negatives, helping to provide much-needed nourishment to crops, but forcing growers to spend more money to maintain them.
“This has been an expensive year for producers due to the rainfall we’ve gotten,” Parrish explained.
Data from the National Weather Service echoed Parrish’s own analysis of rainfall in Dinwiddie, with weather officials recording anywhere from two inches or less in parts of the county, to as much as eight inches of rain during the month of July.
August followed similar trends, with much of the county seeing between six and ten inches of rain, while the county’s more developed areas closer to its border with Petersburg saw between ten and 12 inches of rain, according to their data.
“Our farmers had to fertilize more to offset the rainfall we received,” Parrish said. “And with that rain comes extra weeds, along with pest and insect management and we do see more diseases during wet years.”
He said that most farmers are very in tune with the weather in the region, with many growers opting to plant crops that are able to handle such conditions, but Parrish did say the season was affected by the season’s weather conditions.
“Both of these weather conditions impacted plants, especially their root system,” he said. “When your soil is really saturated, you have a lack of oxygen and the plants can’t breathe and they don’t produce as they shut down. In the drought, they were just waking up from the excessive water, then they didn’t have a big root system due to the roots staying shallow near the surface to be near the oxygen that was available, so when it turned try, they didn’t have deep roots, so the plants suffered that way.”
“It has made our peanut crop late and some of the soybean crops later than normal,” Parrish continued. “We have had a turnaround following the rains after the drought, a lot of the crops picked back up.”
As a result, he expects an average year for some of the county’s crops.
“Corn was decent this year, we expect anywhere from 120 to 130 bushels of corn for the county average,” he said, noting soybean still “has a ways to go, making it hard to estimate what is going to happen.”
“Farmers are always looking for a nice rain. It would be nice if it would rain an inch every week through the summer, but if it all comes in one day and runs back into the rivers, it’s hard for the farmers to get any benefit from it,” he said, noting that the ten-day forecast showing little to no rain in the near future “will negatively effect our local crops.”
He said many of the county’s farmers are prepared for droughts, noting many growers look at the varieties they are growing while spreading out their risk.
“We have about 1,000 acres of milo in the county and we’re using that for hog feed,” Parrish explained. “A lot of farmers are trying that because it is drought-tolerant and we also have about 2,000 acres of cotton here in the county.”
According to county data, agriculture remains big business in Dinwiddie, with 2012 numbers showing row crops, such as soybeans and corn, generating $21 million in economic impact and livestock adding another $5 million to the county’s economy.