Farmers: Crops desperate for rain

Scattered storms today could help Wilson growers

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Russell Davis, of Davis Farms, walks through a field of Pinkeye Purple Hull peas that are in need of rain to fill out and mature. Drew C. Wilson | Times
Russell Davis, of Davis Farms, walks through a field of Pinkeye Purple Hull peas that are in need of rain to fill out and mature. Drew C. Wilson | Times

It has been so hot and dry that most of the white corn on the Davis Farm didn’t pollinate.

“The corn is probably suffering the worst of all the crops,” said Spencer Davis.

Davis and his brother Russell pumped a small water basin down until it was just about gone.

The farmers had fed the water into a drip tape to nourish the crop’s roots.

“We really pumped that pond down,” said Spencer Davis. “It takes a lot of water. We stopped irrigating when we realized it wouldn’t sell.”

The heat killed the pollen.

“We watered it and watered it and watered it,’ said Spencer’s brother, Russell Davis, of the Rock Ridge community.

On Monday, Spencer Davis walked into the 1-acre cornfield and pulled off an ear that was only partially developed.

“It’s hard to market a half an ear of corn,” Russell Davis said.

The farm wasn’t able to sell any sweet corn at all.

“Corn has been greatly affected by the hot, dry weather,” said Norman Harrell, director of the Wilson County Cooperative Extension office in Wilson County. “A lot of corn was pollinating during this period and yields will be significantly affected.”

Harrell said all of Wilson County’s field crops are suffering from the lack of rain.

Phil Badgett, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Raleigh, said thunderstorm activity has been quite variable for the summer up to now with most weather stations around Wilson reporting 25 to 50 percent of normal precipitation.

“So 50 percent of normal is the best case right now,” Badgett said. “The last four to six weeks have been really dry. There are some reports of some of the crops starting to suffer a little bit.”

A large ridge of high pressure over the Tennessee Valley and the Ohio Valley has suppressed the area’s thunderstorm activity over the last four to six weeks.

“We have essentially had no chance of rain the last couple of days, so anything is better than that,” Badgett said.

Badgett said a front coming in Tuesday from the northwest should bring scattered thunderstorms, but it’s going to be hit or miss again.

“I think about 30 to 40 percent will be the chance of seeing a thunderstorm tomorrow,” Badgett said on Monday. “Some places will get an inch and some places won’t get anything.”

The Davis brothers are hoping that today’s higher chances of rain will help their field peas and butter beans.

If the beans don’t get any rain this week, it’s really going to put a hurting on the farm’s produce income.

“A good rain would really help the tobacco,” Russell Davis said. “It’s trying to finish filling out now. It would really help the quality of it if we could get a little rain to set in a little weight on the tobacco crop. That’s where most of our money comes from.”

Harrell said tobacco is behind in development and maturity.

“We would normally be well into harvest now, but farmers are just beginning to harvest,” Harrell said. “We need rain and time to allow for the upper stalk to fill out.”

Davis said the farm got a good rain the week of the Fourth of July.

“That really turned the tobacco around,” Spencer Davis said. “It had been so long since it had rained, the crop is a little further behind than we would want it to be on the calendar, but as far as the crop hurting, it’s not a loss or anything.”

The lugs, leaves from the lower part of the tobacco plant, are already typically hard to market and with this dry weather and heat, a lot of the lower stalk has burned up.

“It’s not going to be favorable and it is going to be that much harder to market because it hasn’t had any rain on it,” Russell Davis said. “They are less desirable and it’s really going to be hard to find a home for any lugs and there’s not going to be many good, clean lugs to harvest, I don’t think. So that’s going to hurt our tobacco income a little bit.”

Grower Scott Sullivan, of Sullivan Farms in Lucama, said all his crops are hurting.

“Some of it will be OK if we get some rain,” Sullivan said. “Some of it might not. It’s dry. Corn is really bad right now.”

Sullivan said he has been irrigating tobacco.

“We are harvesting now, but it is behind where we should be,” Sullivan said. “If we get some rain, we might have a fair crop. If we get some rain, maybe we have still got a chance.”

Harrell said peanuts and cotton have handled the drier weather all right.

“We are entering a time period when they are blooming and need rainfall,” Harrell said.

Soybeans are behind in growth from the dry weather,” Harrell said.
“Soybeans are photo-period sensitive, meaning they flower when the nights reach a certain length,” Harrell said. “We need those soybeans to be three foot tall before they start flowering.”

Sweet potato growth and development in the county is also delayed because of the dry spell, Harrell said.