Drought damage already done in Va.

COURTLAND—A great deal of Virginia’s corn crop has already been destroyed by this summer’s early heat wave, and the rest could wither away if rain doesn’t come soon.

"I’m looking at 70 acres of corn off my back porch right now," said Bruce Phillips, a Southampton County farmer. "That corn is in the hands of the insurance people now. The stalks are so dry they’re falling over."

Phillips, who serves on the board of the Southampton County Farm Bureau, is not alone. According to the July 4 Virginia Crop/Weather report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, rainfall has been more than 3 inches below normal in Northern Virginia and 4 inches below normal in central Virginia since Jan. 1.

All of Virginia is suffering from record-high temperatures and rainfall deficits, and topsoil moisture levels are short in 83 percent of the state.

Hay crops are short this year, pastures are burned up and farmers are already feeding cattle next winter’s hay instead of grass. Even soybeans, usually more drought-resistant, are succumbing.

"My full-season beans are dying in the field," Phillips said. "Double-crop beans (which are planted later) have come up and are somewhat in the neighborhood of two or three leaves, but they’re in trouble too. If we don’t get rain this weekend, it will be worse than anything I’ve seen in my years in farming."

Fresh-market vegetable growers are irrigating their crops to keep them alive, and growers without irrigation are losing yields rapidly.

"Ag marketing consultants recommend that you book (contract to sell) a certain percentage of your crops early in the year when prices hit your target price," Phillips said. "But you never book all of your expected harvest, in case you have a short crop. And now I’m ending up one load short of my contract for wheat," he said. Phillips also is trying to find a neighbor who has corn in storage to fulfill his contract for that crop.

To add insult to injury, plants that have survived the drought conditions are being eaten by deer.

"The plants are trying to get started, and they’re nipping the tops off of them," Phillips said.

Contact Phillips at 757-653-8581 or Norm Hyde, VFBF senior video producer, at 804-290-1146.

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