Rains have delayed farmers, affected some crops

Area farmers have been battling to get their crops into the ground between the recent rains. Jerod Stephens, of Woodstock, is taking advantage of dry weather this week to plant feed corn in this 22-acre field in Clarke County. Rich Cooley/Daily

Recent rains have had an impact on some area farmers.

Jerod Stephens, owner of Stephens Custom Farming in Woodstock, farms fields in nine counties including Shenandoah, Frederick and Warren counties. He plants mostly feed corn and soybean crops.

“There has been extremely wet conditions in the field, including ponding. I have had to replant because crops have either drowned or rotted; some have just washed away,” Stephens said, estimating he has replanted 10 to 12 percent of the crop.

“Normally, I don’t have to replant because of flooding. These are unique conditions. We have to replant because of other issues, like grubs, but not for rain,” he said.

The moisture has delayed farmers getting into the fields, sometimes impacting the yield or amount of crops harvested.

There is another impact.

“A delayed planting means a delayed harvest and a delayed harvest is more strenuous.  We have such standards in the United States that a later harvest makes it harder to meet those standards,” Stephens said as he discussed how later harvests of field crops like field corn tend to result in diminished nutritional quality.

That means the strong poultry market in the region may have to import corn as farmers struggle to supply customers in that industry.

Right now, farmers are in the fields every minute of the day, he said.  Stephens is busy planting as quickly as he can.

The rains have been a blessing and a curse, said Bobby Clark, a Virginia Cooperative Extension agent for agricultural and natural resources based in Shenandoah County.

“On one hand, the abundance of rain has been a blessing. Two months ago, we were concerned about our groundwater, such as wells going dry, ponds and streams going dry. We were concerned about not having enough groundwater. This abundance of rain has rectified that situation,” Clark said.

But it is also causing problems. Farmers cannot get into their fields and that delays the planting.

The field crops have already been negatively impacted.

“The fact we have had a lot of rain last month, a lot of feed corn and soybean have drowned,” he said.

Clark estimated that in the five counties he covers there has been a loss of 10 percent of those crops.

In his travels, he saw two fields of about 100 acres in size, each where the entire crop drowned.

“If you own those fields, that is a big loss to you. Some of it will get replanted, but some of it is too wet to dry out in time,” Clark said.

The corn planting deadline is now while farmers have a couple weeks for fields to dry out to replant soybeans, he said.

Wheat crops have suffered yield loss due to the extreme moisture resulting in diseased crops, Clark said.

Mark Sutphin, a Virginia Cooperative Extension horticulture agent based in Frederick County, said the cool spring and excessive moisture caused planting delays for many farmers of fruit and vegetable crops, such as tomatoes, melons, onions and more.

Tree fruits, such as apples and peaches should not be significantly impacted by the rains, Sutphin said.

“We have received significant moisture.  Fifteen-plus inches of rain in last five weeks, depending on where you were,” Sutphin said.

Randy Jenkins, vegetable produce manager at Woodbine Farm Market in Strasburg, said the grounds were already saturated when one day a storm rolled in that dumped a couple of inches of rain in a very short time. That flooded the fields where his strawberries were planted – washing away about half of the crop.

Many farmers are in a similar situation with strawberries.

“It’s just a loss. I could not replant,” Jenkins said.

The five-generation family market grows crops in fields in three counties.

And while he may have been delayed getting into the fields –  Jenkins replants crops every 10 days to keep a steady supply of produce coming into the market – sweet corn, green beans and other favored crops are expected to be available at the Woodbine Market for the Fourth of July weekend.

Jenkins said ground crops like onions, tomatoes and peppers have fared well.