Farmers: Suffolk needs sun, not rain

Published 8:55 pm Saturday, September 8, 2012

After months of wet conditions, summer crops either ripening quickly or ready for harvest are at a critical juncture, Suffolk farmers say.

“We would like it to stop raining,” said Shelley Barlow, whose family plans to harvest cotton, soybeans and corn in Suffolk and Isle of Wight County.

“It seems like we’re never happy — when it’s raining, it’s too much, and when it’s dry we need rain.”

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The National Weather Service reported 10.62 inches for Suffolk in August, measured at a site near Lake Kilby — almost double the monthly average through 1945.

David Bosselman says he needs to be harvesting corn now, but fields are too wet. Like other Suffolk farmers, he’s hoping for some dry, sunny weather as crops ripen.

According to meteorologist Dan Proch at the Wakefield forecast office, the storms have been patchy, with rainfall often differing markedly between locations only miles apart.

“Right now it hasn’t damaged the crops in any way, but it’s difficult to get field work done,” Barlow said, adding that one farmer hired a helicopter to spray fungicide.

Southampton County agriculture Extension agent Chris Drake said Suffolk farmers have about 13,500 acres of cotton to harvest.

Cotton bolls are starting to open, he said. “You definitely don’t want to see a lot of rain when that happens.”

Barlow is concerned about hardlock, where fiber fails to become fluffy as bolls open. “The picker can’t pick that — it’s very frustrating,” she said.

Boll rot is also caused by wet conditions, when the cotton is unable to dry out, Barlow said.

David Bosselman, another Suffolk farmer, who grows cotton, soybeans, corn, peanuts and wheat, said, “We need to be picking some corn right now.”

Bosselman expects corn harvesting to be under way in Suffolk next week, if fields dry out.

“We have a lot of land wet and might have to wait longer than we want to,” he said.

The rain is starting to cause disease in peanuts; Bosselman said he was able to spray some of his crops, but not all. “Hopefully by the end of September we will be able to start digging them,” he said.

Bosselman also fears his cotton will suffer boll rot if dry, sunny conditions don’t prevail. Soybeans also need to dry to ripen, he said.

“We have had some ample rainfall, and we have good growth,” he said. “I’m expecting a pretty good crop if we can get some good weather.”

With the exception of corn, which experienced drought stress in late June and early July, all crops look good, Drake said.

But Suffolk has had what he described as “bordering on tropical” rainfall, he said, citing up to 15 inches in the last 16 days in some parts.