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TOP STORY, May 31, 2016

Weeks of rain leave area with myriad of issues

 

By JONATHAN CRIBBS
Associate Editor

Nearly a month of essentially unceasing precipitation and bouts of chilly weather have led to trouble for farmers in the Mid-Atlantic, delaying the planting of some crops, drowning others and creating a sense of frustration across the agricultural community.
Depending on the region, Maryland farmers have been forced to endure between 16 and 24 consecutive days of precipitation as of press time, one of the rainiest Mays on record, said Lindsay Thompson, policy and programs assistant at the Maryland Grain Producers Association.
“Some of our farmers got most or all of their corn in the ground prior to the rain event,” she said. “Some of them are experiencing corn seed actually rotted in the ground, so there’s quite a bit of replanting that is going to occur there.”
Due to unseasonably warm weather that advanced the beginning of planting season, Thompson said, some corn growers were lucky enough to see emergence a week to five days before the rain began in late April.
Many in central and western Maryland haven’t begun planting. The toughest spot might be for those who planted just a few days before the rain. Many of them may have to replant part of their acreage or move onto soybeans entirely, she said.
Bobby Hutchison, a Cordova, Md., farmer who oversees about 3,400 acres, said he likely would need to replace about 7 percent of his corn crop.
Normally, he said he can plant about 100 acres a day, but replanting chunks of his crop — ruined in about five inches of rain that fell in the first week of this month — will take multiple days as he hopscotches from field to field in more than one county.
The weather has also delayed his cucumber planting, he said.
“It’s very time-consuming, not to mention frustrating,” he said. “It’s just weather. There’s nothing any of us could have done.”
Strawberry growers congregated at the University of Maryland’s Wye Research and Education Center in Queenstown on May 25 to review updates to various strawberry-related research projects. But growers also detailed a host of weather-related crop issues — and not just the rain.
Ray Sprague, a Salisbury, Md., farmer, said he was at the meeting in search of a new variety to grow on a small patch within his farm after a recent “cold snap.” He said he didn’t bed his plants down for winter, and it ruined his crop.
“I got lazy,” he said.
But most said the rain was their biggest concern. Davidsonville, Md., farmer Robert Chase said he closed his U-pick strawberry plot that day to clear away diseased and rotten strawberries that might deter customers.
He said his plants rest on raised beds, but many still drowned. It’s his first year growing strawberries.
“They’re molding and rotten, the strawberries,” Chase said. “I tell [customers] the season’s going to be short and sweet this year.”
Mike Newell, program manager in the horticulture program at the center, said strawberry growers need to maintain a good fungicide program to fight Botrytis fruit rot and anthracnose. They also need to spray more often to account for the rain.
“We’ve been spraying weekly or even more,” he said.
Growers can also use a leaf blower to push the water off plastic, Newell said, and ensure plants are properly spaced to make sure air is well circulated. Maintaining good post-winter field sanitation is key as well.
Virginia growers were also experiencing issues.
Corn farmers were struggling with slugs and peanuts, soybeans and tobacco were all planted later than usual, according to the Virginia Farm Bureau.
Half the state’s hay crop has been rated below average, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
“The wet weather has really slowed down all farm work,” said Ellis Walton, a Middlesex County farmer, in a statement. “You can’t care for small grains and can’t get started on corn and bean planting because it’s been too wet to put equipment in the fields. No hay has been cut for weeks. I still have a half-inch of standing water in my own yard.”
How seriously the rain effects the grain remains to be seen, Thompson said. Growers will have to wait and see how the rest of the summer’s weather pans out.
“If you go with the law of averages, it’s going to hurt us on yield,” Hutchison said.