Virginia farmers brace for drought

Virginia farmers brace for drought 4RICHMOND—While summer drought conditions are not uncommon in pockets of Virginia, farmers statewide are expressing concern about the forecast. An ongoing string of hot days with low humidity will likely affect their crops.

Those abnormally dry drought conditions are persistent throughout the commonwealth, according to a recent crop progress report from the National Agricultural Statistic Service’s Virginia Field Office. Temperatures are expected to reach highs in the upper 90s in coming weeks.

“We were getting rain, rain, rain every weekend,” said Danielle Bappert, regional crop agent for Virginia Farm Bureau Crop Insurance. “Then it just cut off. The farmers I talk to are nervous, looking at their weather apps, with not a drop of rain in sight.”

However, some crops thrive in this weather.

“There was a very good first cutting of hay around the state, and some farmers have already gotten a good-quality second cutting,” noted Robert Harper, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation grain division manager.

Since Virginia’s wheat and hayfields received significant rain in the spring, they are faring well.

“Everyone is telling me it’s their best hay crop in years,” explained Bappert. “And it’s ideal for wheat to be dry when it’s cut. Last year it rained a lot during that time frame, which lowers quality. But for most farmers, corn and soybeans are the big money makers.”

With long summer days, “photosynthesis is wide open,” Harper said. “When water cuts off, it puts those crops under stress.”

The lack of rain already has prevented some growers from double-cropping—growing two or more crops in the same area during a single crop year, like planting soybeans after harvesting winter wheat.

“Farmers are telling me they are not planting them,” Harper said. “They are waiting for rain because they can’t hammer seed into ground that’s hard as a brick!”

The unusual weather may be attributed to the shift from El Niño to La Niña.

The summer will bring a climatic pattern change, said U.S. Department of Agriculture meteorologist Brad Rippey. El Niño is the climate phenomenon warming equatorial waters in the Pacific.

“The transition has already begun to the opposite conditions, known as La Niña, with colder-than-normal waters in the same region,” he said. “The shift is coming.”

The climate transition can result in “super-dry conditions” followed by a highly active hurricane season predicted this year, Bappert noted.

VFB has added hurricane coverage to its multiple crop insurance options. For more information, visit vafb.com/insurance/crop.

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