Agency calls for drought declaration

Published 7:34 pm Monday, August 9, 2010

Despite the fact the area has received more rain the past few weeks, the damage to some crops has been done.

Watson Lawrence, Virginia Cooperative Extension Agriculture agent in Chesapeake and an interim in Suffolk, has submitted information to the city manager requesting a drought declaration due to an estimated 90-percent yield loss in corn crops and 80-percent yield loss in hay and forage production.

“I’ve estimated that both crops have suffered major damage and warrant a drought declaration,” Lawrence said. “The hardest hit crops were corn, and pastures have also been significantly impacted. Both crops needed rain early on, and they didn’t get it.”

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There are nearly 9,000 acres of corn crops and a little more than 3,100 acres of pasture and grassland planted in Suffolk.

According to Lawrence, the next step in the declaration process is for the city to submit a request to the governors’ office, which would send a directive to the Virginia Department of Agriculture. The department would then confirm, often with the assistance of the Extension agency, that drought conditions existed. After its assessment, it sends a request to the United States Department of Agriculture.

A 30-percent yield loss of a single crop must be shown to receive a drought declaration, which would allow for farmers to apply for low-interest loans.

“These loans would give farmers the needed capital to help compensate for financial loss this year with an extended payback time,” Lawrence said. “They still have to pay it back, but it gives them the opportunity to stay in business rather than declare bankruptcy.”

All may not be lost, however.

Because they are later crops and rain came later in the season, cotton, soybeans and peanuts may have better luck than corn and pastures.

“The corn crops are done, but the yield losses with cotton, soybeans and peanuts may be less,” said Janet Spencer, Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources in Isle of Wight County.

Spencer said the lack of early rain would hurt cotton production.

“Even though it is looking better, it had flowered by the time we got rain,” Spencer said. “It means the plants are smaller than they usually are, so they won’t get as many bolls on them, but how big those bolls can get is still to be determined.”

The two crops that have most benefited from the recent rain are peanuts and soybeans.

Most peanut crops have pegged, and the peanuts are now developing.

“Peanuts are getting some size on them now, which the rain may have helped,” Spencer said. “Because soybeans are a little behind the other crops, the rain really helped them. It came when they needed it, so hopefully we’ll get a better yield on the crop.”

Ensuring the success of the crops depends on more rainfall.

“I just talked to a farmer who has two ponds, and they’re both completely bone dry,” Spencer said. “Farmers need that rain for the pasture and to water the cows. Right now, he’s having to fill his ponds up with water tankers.”