North Carolina is not experiencing drought or abnormally dry conditions for the first time in three years, thanks to recent rainfall from Tropical Storm Andrea and several other storm systems, according to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Agricultural officials in Richmond County report damp soil and crops that are generally in good shape, heading into the long summer. However, there may have been some damage to crops by heavy rainfall and strong winds.
The rainfall from Tropical Storm Andrea helped eliminate lingering abnormally dry conditions in eastern North Carolina. The last time the U.S. Drought Monitor depicted no drought or abnormally dry conditions in North Carolina was during the week of April 20, 2010.
These conditions are reflected on the federal drought map for North Carolina, which is released every Thursday. To see the most recent drought map, go to www.ncdrought.org.
“Recent rains have brought relief to the lingering dry conditions in eastern North Carolina,” said Bob Stea, chairman of the N.C. Drought Management Advisory Council. “Streams, groundwater and soil moisture levels have greatly improved and are near longer-term averages.”
While dry conditions are no longer present, drought officials say they cannot forecast what the summer months will bring.
“North Carolina’s rainfall becomes more difficult to forecast, as well as less reliable, during the summer months,” said Michael Moneypenny, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Raleigh and a member of the drought advisory council. “Weather systems are typically weaker and the bulk of our rainfall comes from scattered shower and thunderstorm activity that pops up during the heat of the day.”
Ryan Boyles, director of the State Climate Office at N.C. State University and a member of the advisory council, said: “Winter climate conditions can be predicted several months in advance due to factors such as La Niña. However, summer seasonal conditions are not currently predictable, and the upcoming summer is just as likely to be dry as wet.”
With little guidance to rely upon, conditions will have to be monitored closely. Conditions can worsen quickly because North Carolina’s hot summer months bring about higher rates of evaporation.
“I do agree that at this moment we are not in a drought situation here in Richmond County,” said Amy Hill Yaklin, County Executive Director, Richmond County Farm Service Agency.
“We have several different soil types in the county and while it may be damp now is some areas, for instance in the clay, the sand-lands will quickly show stress and the need for water. High temps also play a major role in our conditions and it can all change in a short period of time. Crops appear to be in good shape at this point, but I am concerned that the recent rains and high winds may have damaged the wheat/rye crop and the strawberry crop for the county,” Yaklin said.
It’s hard to run a combine over land that is wet or wheat/rye that has been blown down and lying on the ground, Yaklin noted.
Also, strawberry and vegetable producers suffer because the shelf life of their crop quickly diminishes with excess water, especially strawberries and tomatoes, she said.
“Farmers would like to be able to balance all that but since they are not in control of the weather and conditions, they try to make the best of what they get. I have noticed that several ponds that were very low have now returned to a normal level and creeks are running strong. This will help with irrigation of crops and livestock in the event that we go into a dry time. Several producers have commented they really needed the rains we received and would like to see a good shower at least once a week for the corn and beans out there to really make a substantial crop,” said Yaklin.
“Richmond County grass yields have been high since we’ve been getting a lot of rain, however hay farmers are still facing challenges with the weather,” said Tiffanee Conrad, Livestock Agent for Richmond County.
“They need a period of two to three days of sunshine so that they can cut the grass, let it dry out, and then bale it. When it gets rained on, the nutrient value for animals goes down, and there is a hazard that it can catch on fire when it dries out,” she said.
Conrad said some farmers have seen flooding in their bottom pastures and have to fence animals out of those areas, so they don’t tear up the grass.
“Farming is a risky business with too little rain, too much rain, insect problems, and tractors breaking down. Thankfully farming is also full of rewards. Richmond County Farmers are passionate about raising our food,” Conrad said.
Horticulture Agent Paige Burns, also with the Cooperative Extension Service along with Conrad, said the good news about the rain we’ve been having is that farm ponds, which farmers use to irrigate crops, have for the most part recovered to normal levels.
“They may need the water later in the season if the rain slows down,” said Burns.
“While good in many ways, the heavy rains shortened the length of the strawberry crop this year by several weeks, as well as caused increased labor costs during the season. Strawberries cost thousands of dollars per acre to grow, and when the season is shortened farmers may not make enough money to cover their costs and make a profit.
“Additionally, the rain has led to higher moisture levels in wheat, delaying harvest in some cases, and caused leaching of fertilizer in crops, particularly a problem in tobacco. This requires farmers to put out more fertilizer, which is an additional, and unexpected, expense,” Burns said.
— Editor John Charles Robbins can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 13, or by email at email@example.com.