Drought affects farmers, crops

Published 4:33 pm Wednesday, October 23, 2019

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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced a statewide drought watch advisory Oct. 11. Meanwhile, Charlotte County farmers are attempting to recover after a dry start to the fall season that resulted in dramatic crop losses.

Stuart Bayne, District Conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service for Charlotte and Lunenburg counties, explained that the USDA County Emergency Board met Oct. 16 to complete an assessment on crop losses for the counties.

The board, consisting of professionals from Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Southside SWCD and Virginia Department of Forestry, works mainly to report crop losses due to natural disasters to the State Emergency Board with USDA. The State board can then request secretarial and/or presidential disaster declaration.

According to the board’s findings, this season Charlotte County has experienced an estimated 30% pasture loss and 20% loss of tobacco crop. Additionally, the county saw a 50% mixed grass hay loss and a 50% loss in soybean crops. Charlotte County has also seen a small loss of corn crop.

“We are very worried about pasture and hay supplies being low with some producers feeding supplemental hay starting in early August,” Stuart stated in the drought report. “Most of the pastures are completely dormant and there is no chance to stockpile grass this year even if we do receive rain.”

Keary Mariannino, owner of Southpaw Acres farm in Charlotte Court House, stated in an interview with The Charlotte Gazette Oct. 18 that the dry weather has negatively affected her family-run hobby farm, as well as other larger cattle farms.

“As the winter goes on, if we run  out of hay, the hay prices will increase because most farmers did not get a good second cutting,” Mariannino explained. “That is going to impact us later in the year, perhaps in February and March, because we’ve already had to start feeding hay. There’s just not enough grass to go around.”

Mariannino discussed her father-in-law who lives in Mecklenburg County owns 200 acres of cattle-farming land.

“He generally does not have to buy any hay. He’s got three different types of cattle. He will have to purchase hay this year. He just doesn’t have enough because he didn’t get a good second cutting,” Mariannino said.

She added, “It’s been a blessing to have the rain recently. If it had continued much longer, we’d be in dire straits.”

Charlotte County received a much-needed 4.22 inches of rain over the weekend, according to the National Weather Service. Despite the necessary rainfall, owner of Pet Rock Cattle Farm in Charlotte County and Co-Owner of Long’s Farm Supply in Brookneal, Bobby Long, said that several crops will likely not see much improvement.

“The crop losses to the soybeans and the corn, they are what they are,” said Long in an interview with The Charlotte Gazette Oct. 21. “There’s no changing that at this point. Those crops have pretty well done what they are going to do. They’re at the point of drying down and getting ready for harvest. With the grassland, depending on temperature, you may see a little resurgence in pastures throughout the rest of the fall, but if it starts getting colder and the nights start getting down in the 30s like they would typically do in November, then of course the grass is going to slow down as well.”

“It’s certainly not going to be a full recovery by any stretch of the imagination,” Long added.

Long said that he had seen the effects of the season’s drought on his business, referencing that he had initially seen a delay in seed sales. “We’re actually experiencing a good bit of seed sales now, because people are trying to catch up so to speak.”

Long stated that the business had also seen a rise in supplemental feed sales in August and September.

“One of the things that farmers are doing, they are trying to supplement in other ways to help provide nutrition to cattle to help stretch that hay supply while it’s still warm, so they are purchasing some feeds and different things to do that,” Long said. “The other side of it is, a lot of those farmers would also plant small grains and different things in the fall that they would cut for hay next spring. Planting season’s been delayed because of the drought, so not just the small grains, but the grasses that they would normally plant, the fescues and orchard grasses, have been delayed. There’s been a decent amount of planting that started with the first rains last week.”

In reference to county water supplies, the drought has not negatively affected water levels, officials cited.

“Everything is good to go,” said Drakes Branch Water Operator James Napier. “Of course we got rain yesterday, but we hadn’t had any issues. It got dry, but it’s been dry before. We haven’t had any issues with anything.”

Napier, who is also the Water Operator for the town of Phenix, was confident in the Phenix water supplies as well. “Everything there is pretty good, except for that they need a well. They’re just waiting for everybody to approve it.”

Clay Samples, CEO of Samples Monitoring Service for Charlotte Court House and Keysville, stated that he had been newly contracted by the towns due to the loss of the previous water operator. Samples said that the water supplies for both Charlotte Court House, which primarily uses wells, and Keysville, operating on a spring-fed reservoir, were doing well.