Farmers reeling from drought

Larry Ambrose holds a clod of dirt from the dried pond on his Ambrose Family Century Farm in Mount Jackson on Wednesday. Ambrose has had to sell some of his calves because of limited pasture to feed them due to the drought conditions. Rich Cooley/Daily

Despite the mid-week rainfall, area farmers are still suffering from the effects of the latest dry spell.

Larry Ambrose, who operates a cattle farm just outside the town limits of Mount Jackson, had to sell 16 calves two weeks ago in order to feed the rest of the herd. He’s been forced to start supplementing his cows’ diet with one round bale of hay daily.

“All these years before, I didn’t start normally feeding hay until the first of November, until the second week of November,” Ambrose said. “Now, it’s actually a little over a month early.”

For the first time, the pond on Ambrose’s farm has dried up. The well system he had installed on his property is sufficient for now, but he no longer has a Plan B.

“I don’t have a reserve now. If something were to happen, I’d have to haul water, because I can’t rely on my pond,” Ambrose said.

Cracks formed in the floor of this pond on the Ambrose farm as a result of the drought. Rich Cooley/Daily

Ambrose’s farm is not alone in suffering from this dry spell. Precipitation, stream flows and groundwater are all abnormally low for this point in the season.

On Tuesday, the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to approve a resolution that would get the proper bureaucratic gears turning to formally ask Gov. Terry McAuliffe to declare Shenandoah County an agriculture disaster area, and to provide state and federal help to farmers in the area.

“We haven’t had a dry spell that we’ve had to request for disaster in quite a few years,” said Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension agent Bobby Clark, who called the lack of rain “especially significant.”

The recent rain has halted continued damage to the area, Clark said, but does not reverse the damage already done.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality declared a drought watch Wednesday afternoon for the Shenandoah drought evaluation region. This region includes Augusta, Clarke, Frederick, Page, Rockingham, Shenandoah and Warren counties, and the cities of Harrisonburg, Staunton, Waynesboro and Winchester.

Falling short of an official drought warning, the drought watch does not require mandatory water conservation efforts. However, individual precincts have that ability: Front Royal and Strasburg have both declared drought emergency conditions, ordering residents and businesses to adhere to water conservation restrictions.