Agriculture: Timing, weather means different things to vital local crops

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Farmer Robert White of Pungo is seen in early summer while planting field corn just across Princess Anne Road from the Ashville Park community. White recently said he expects a strong yield for corn. However, the soy yield may be down due to weather issues. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News/File]

PUNGO — Fall is harvest season for Virginia Beach grain farmers, and this summer’s unusual weather has resulted in mixed results for this year’s yields.

Drought, followed by heavy rain, took its toll on the soybean crop.  Corn yields, meanwhile, are looking good, thanks to rain and relatively mild temperatures during early July, which is the critical pollination season for field corn.

“I think the corn yield is the highest I’ve had so far,”  said farmer Robert White, who expects to average about 240 bushels per acre once the harvesting is completed.   

White, who farms about 550 acres in Pungo, said July rains were spotty, and fields further south may have received less rain in July. Still, he and Roy Flanagan, agriculture extension agent in Virginia Beach, agree that this is a good corn year. [So readers are aware – John Doucette, editor of The Independent News, is Flanagan’s brother-in-law.]

That’s not the case for soybeans, which are planted later than corn and which mature later in the fall.  Early soybeans, which were planted in May or early June, were putting out pods in late summer, when there was no rain at all.

“We were without a good rain at all for 45 days,” Flanagan said.  

Virginia Beach grain farmers grow 12,998 acres of soybeans and 5,379 acres of corn, so loss of soybean yield is particularly disappointing.

Many farmers “double-crop” soybeans, Flanagan explained, meaning that they plant crops at different times. One crop is planted in late spring or early summer, and another crop is planted in mid-June to July, after the winter wheat is harvested.

Soybean harvest season begins in early October and sometimes extends into December, so it’s too early to determine what the average yield will be. Still, Flanagan expects that the yield, which was 45 bushels to the acre in 2014, will be down for both early and late soybeans this year.

Fortunately, soybeans generally require less rain than corn and are able to withstand a good deal of dry weather in their early growing stage, White said. 

When they’re putting out pods, they need some moisture, but not as much as corn needs to pollinate.

Too little moisture later on could cause the soybeans to drop their pods, Flanagan said, while too little rain in the earlier stages will result in fewer flowers, which means fewer pods and smaller seeds.

So, no matter what stage the soybeans were in, they probably got hurt by the drought.

Still, about the worst that can happen to grain crops is that they get too much rain during harvest season, according to White.  He said recent storms may have put them on track for that.

“About half of this rain three weeks ago would have helped,” White said.  “Now, it will hurt more than help.”

“If you get too much rain at the wrong time, and if it stays warm, it will start to mold,” White said.  “I don’t care what kind of grain you have, when you get a lot of rain when you’re ready to harvest, it’s bad.”

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