This Week’s Headlines
Dry weather keeping foothold on Southwest Virginia
By JANE W. GRAHAM
Farmers in Southwest Virginia have continued to keep an eye to the sky as cloudy and misty weather some days and hot cloudy weather on other days played with their hopes and emotions as well as their pocket books.
The National Drought Monitor released July 24 kept the area in an abnormally dry designation rather than calling it a drought.
Some showers refreshed grass, corn, soybeans and other crops but did little to promote a second cutting of hay.
Peter Corrigan at the National Weather Service Station in Blacksburg, Va., said the dryer than normal designation has been extended into the northern James River Basin and adjoining West Virginia.
He said Pulaski and Montgomery counties continue to be the driest with rainfall of 25 percent of normal for the last 30 days.
Corrigan said further to the west conditions have improved somewhat with the about 2 inches of rain in some of the counties in the Tennessee Valley.
These counties were placed in the abnormally dry designation rather than in the moderate drought category they have been in for several weeks.
David Fiske, superintendent of the Shenandoah Valley Agriculture Research Extension Center, reports only two inches of rain has fallen there in June and July.
He said the first cutting of hay is off by 30 percent and there is not going to be a second cutting, adding if there is any grass it will probably be grazed.
He said the only salvation might come for fall if there is rain and they fertilize encouraging some growth of fall pasture that could possibly delay feeding hay.
The hay supplies were depleted by the bad winter so hay is in short supply in the Shenandoah as elsewhere.
Jason Carter, executive secretary of the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association, said the dry weather from Rich Valley into Clinch Valley and into the coal fields in Southwest Virginia is causing more cattle to show up on the group’s sale boards. He included the New River Valley in that assessment, as well.
He said the dry weather in Southside Virginia and in Northern North Carolina is also increasing cattle in board sales.
Prices are high however, he said “Unprecedented.”
He said dry weather however is never good for cattlemen and expressed concern about the short grass, lack of hay, and possibly no second cutting.
He also expressed concern about whether or not there would be feeder calves in the fall for those buyers in the stocker segment of the industry.
Matthew French was manning the French Family Farm booth at the Wytheville Farmers Market July 19 and talked about the dry weather in Bland County where his father has a beef cattle farm.
French said it is so dry there that his father is feeding hay to his cattle.
Steve Pottorff, Carroll County Extension Agent, said he knew of no one feeding hay to their cattle in his county yet but said some were pretty close to being forced to do so.
“It’s a mixed bag, depending on what area you’re in,” Elaine Lidholm, communications director for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said.
She reported that John Beahm, a VDACS representative in Southwest Virginia said the Pulaski County area is by far the driest and the most critical.
“Most areas are only a few weeks from being in critical condition if we don’t receive rain within that timeframe,” she continued.
According to Beahm, the hay crop for most in his part of the state was 65 percent to 75 percent of normal in most of the area.
Over the mountain on the West Virginia border reports were that Tazewell County is having a good year with enough rain, good pasture and a good hay crop.
People selling cattle there were doing so because the prices are high, not because they lack feed for them, The Tazewell report said.
The severe winter caused many livestock producers to feed much or all of their hay before pastures were ready to graze and are now going into a season with a short first cutting and little promise of a second cutting.
“Because of this many producers are looking for hay to purchase, but there is very little for sale locally,” Lidholm reported. “Producers may be interested in purchasing hay from outside of the area if available.”
Producers can check Virginia’s Hay Clearinghouse Newsletter that connects people with hay to sell with those who need to buy by visiting www.vdacs.virginia.gov/marketnews/pdffiles/hay.pdf.
VDACS activates this each year, usually in May, and it runs through the end of the year.