Season looks good for grain producers

Corn stalks stretch to the setting sun outside Springdale Farm east of Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

As the summer months roll along, the season is progressing well for grain producers in the Northern Shenandoah Valley, according to Bobby Clark, Virginia Cooperative Extension agent for agricultural and natural resources.

On June 30, the USDA’s National Agriculture Statistic Service released its annual June Acreage Report for the 2015 season,  which shows what producers have planted and what they expect to harvest in certain areas.

Clark indicated that the season is “looking decent” in regards to corn, soybeans, hay and barley for producers in the valley.

“We don’t have [corn] tassels and we don’t soybeans flowering yet, but for the most part, we have really good stands across the whole area,” Clark noted.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s report, Virginia producers planted more soybeans at 670,000 acres than the 660,000 acres reported for 2014. Producers also reported an increase in harvest soybeans from 650,000 acres in 2014 to 660,000 acres in 2015.

Jim Fitzsimmons stands between rows of 10-foot corn on his Springdale Farm along the Shenandoah River east of Woodstock this week. Fitzsimmons has 65 acres of corn planted by Dean and Dennis Shillingburg on the 100-acre farm. Area corn has been growing well with plenty of rain over the last several weeks. Rich Cooley/Daily

Producers reported planting 500 acres of corn for 2015, which is identical to the amount planted in 2014.

According to Clark, the weather conditions have been normal for the summer season in the Northern Shenandoah Valley, and also beneficial for crops such as corn and soybeans.

“The month of May was so good that there was a lot of work done,” Clark said. “Most everybody was able to get their farming done this year, in terms of planting and fertilizing.”

James “Jim” Fitzsimmons, of River Spring Farm in Woodstock, said his corn crop for 2015 is looking good at the moment.

Fitzsimmons, 65, said they plant corn in alternating rotational cycles with soybean. He explained they plant corn in single-year cycles every three years, and plant soybeans for two-year periods.

This year, he noted their 70 acres of corn is 7 feet high.

“We’ve gotten good, steady rain in the month of May and June,” Fitzsimmons said, noting that the frequency of the rain has been important.

He said he hopes the steady rains will continue for the next two months.

Fitzsimmons explained, “We need to get rain when [the corn] tassels. Generally, if it’s too dry, it won’t tassel well, and then you don’t get the length on the cob that you would want.”

Clark explained, “When we hit about 10 days from now onward is when moisture is really critical. Up to this point, the crops haven’t been big enough to really need lots of moisture.”

However, the rainy conditions of May and June were not as ideal for producers who harvested wheat over the last month.

“The only problem that we’ve run into so far is over the last few weeks, farmers have been trying to harvest some barley and wheat,” Clark said, noting that the hot and humid weather has resulted in some lighter harvests.

“When it’s really rainy, sometimes you end up with … less pounds per bushel than you would otherwise.”

Clarke estimated that this hurt grain quality among the area’s producers by 5 or 10 percent. “It’s noticeable, but not huge,” he said.

According to Clark, there are 500 or more farmers who produce hay in Shenandoah County, with around 50 farmers producing barley and wheat.

In the extension’s coverage area — which includes the counties of Shenandoah, Warren, Frederick, Clarke and Page — Clark estimated that there are “probably 1,500-plus farmers who harvest hay, and probably 100 … that harvest barley and wheat.”

According to the USDA’s acreage report, Virginia producers harvested 3.8 percent less hay, with 1.13 million acres in 2015 compared to the 1.175 million acres reported in 2014.

“I don’t think that our barley and wheat crop was sensational, it was OK,” Clark said. “We’re just mid-way through the summer, and there’s no major catastrophes … we’re just kind of moving right along.”

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com