National Weather Service says rain is coming soon

Published 7:51 am Wednesday, July 2, 2008

By Staff
Corn yield already halved, other crops suffering
Staff Writer
Farmers need rain if their crops aren’t going to be a near-total write-off, and it should be here soon, a federal meteorologist said.
If that rain doesn’t get here, farmers could see corn crops cut to almost nothing, said local farmer Andrew Arnold.
Last year, farmers in Beaufort County — the leading corn-producing county in North Carolina — averaged about 140 bushels of corn per acre in a banner crop, said Gaylon Ambrose, a county agent with the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service.
Fields of corn will probably return no better than half of last year’s yield on average, even if they get rain right away, Ambrose said. One more dry week and the average return could be a third of last year’s, he said.
The drastic cut in corn production comes in a year when a push for biofuels, flooding in the Midwest, and other factors, have conspired to boost the price of corn, Ambrose said.
Local farmer Mickey Elks said the hundreds of acres of soybeans he planted look good so far. But, the drought has already delayed planting for some of the region’s double-crop soybeans, which are planted after farmers cut their wheat in June, Ambrose said.
This year’s wheat crop was robust, helping to dampen the economic blow, Arnold said. But, by this time of year, farmers’ yields drop each day soybeans are not planted, he said.
And, those farmers that recently put soybeans on harvested wheat fields have not seen their beans sprout well, said Mac Gibbs, an extension agent in Hyde County.
The region’s tobacco crop will likely have a lower yield than in years past because the plants themselves are shorter, Arnold said.
The flowering tops of the stunted plants are harder to remove, and suckers — side shoots that divert a plant’s energy from producing leaves — are harder to prevent, Arnold said.
Though it’s tougher with a drought-year crop, Elks was busy treating his plants to prevent suckers Tuesday.
The drought is the worst Ambrose has seen in his 30 years in the county, he said. Even Hyde County, where farmers usually complain of too much rain, not too little, is hurting, Gibbs said.
But the region is only in a moderate drought, according to the State Climate Office of North Carolina. Areas around Charlotte are facing droughts three classifications worse, according to the agency’s latest map, which was released Thursday.
But, the area’s farmers are still hard hit because agriculture relies on soil moisture, not creeks and rivers or underground aquifers, Orrock said.
And, he said soil moisture should improve as the region gets rain after a particularly dry June, though some areas may get more than others.
Until that rain gets here, local farmers are mostly just waiting and hoping, Ambrose said.