BY JANE BLOODWORTH ROWE
PUNGO — This year’s growing season got off to a soggy start with heavy rains that damaged the strawberry crops and delayed planting for both grain and produce farmers.
May’s hot, rainy weather damaged some strawberries, which rot easily in those conditions. It also discouraged customers from coming out to pick at local farms, leading to more crop and revenue loss, said farmer Mike Cullipher of Cullipher Farm, and Diane Horsley, a Blackwater farmer who serves as chairperson of the Virginia Beach Agriculture Advisory Commission.
Meanwhile, grain farmers struggled to finish planting corn and get started on soybean planting, said Horsley and Roy Flanagan, Virginia Beach agricultural extension agent. [Ed. — Flanagan is kin to John Doucette, editor of The Independent News.]
The National Weather Service in Wakefield reported that 7.6 inches of rain fell in the Norfolk area during May. That’s 4.2 inches above normal. While parts of southern Virginia Beach escaped some of that rain, heavy rain in northern Virginia Beach scared some residents into staying home rather than coming to pick berries, Cullipher said.
The unpicked berries quickly rotted in the hot, humid conditions.
“It’s the first time that we ever lost a crop of strawberries because of rain somewhere else,” Cullipher said. “And we lost some to heat. When they started to get ripe, they’d cook.”
Temperatures were seven degrees above average this May, with the temperature hitting 93 on May 12. Cullipher estimates that he lost $5,000 to $10,000 to May’s steamy, rainy weather.
Overcast conditions also slowed vegetable growth, Cullipher said. Still, he noted that the vegetables look good so far, and there are still some strawberries as well as early blueberries.
John Cromwell, a produce farmer and the Virginia Beach Agricultural Advisory Commission secretary, said that soggy fields have prevented him from maintaining his vegetable crops.
“We’re trying to cultivate, but it’s a little tedious right now,” Cromwell said.
He’s also concerned that wet conditions will encourage insect infestation, which will be difficult to control if he can’t get his equipment into the field.
Still, the rain has its upside, Cromwell added. Corn is a perpetually thirsty crop, and it thrives in wet weather.
“The corn looks wonderful,” Cromwell said. “The early sweet corn looks real good.”
While the sweet corn is thriving, heavy rain delayed field corn planting, Flanagan said, and one farmer finally gave up on planting corn in some of his fields and decided to substitute soybeans, which can be planted later.
Rain may have also rotted some soybean seeds and delayed other plantings.
Don Horsley, a Blackwater farmer and Diane Horsley’s husband, said he normally starts planting that crop in late April, but this year he didn’t start until mid-May.
“I have 25 percent of my soybeans planted now, and it should be 75 percent,” said Horsley, who raises about 4,000 acres of soybeans.
Farmers are optimistic that June will be dryer. Cullipher said he watched five storms pass over his fields on June 3, but the following days were clear and cooler. He thinks that with favorable weather and a little luck, he will have strawberries at least until mid-June if not until July.
Don Horsley also needs dry weather because he wants to begin harvesting winter wheat in mid-June. The grain will deteriorate quickly in wet weather, he said.
Still, it’s all a balancing act for Horsley and other grain farmers. Right now, they hope it will dry out, but the thirsty corn will need yet more rain in a couple of weeks, and then another rain around July 4, when it’s pollinating.
“If the weather straightens up, we can get our work done by the end of June,” Horsley said, “but the corn is going to need more rain.”
© 2018 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC