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Farmers and businesses hurt and harmed by record rainfall

Tony Hymes, owner of Mountain View Vineyard near Strasburg, shows his Chamboursin grapes that were decimated by rain this summer. Rich Cooley/Daily

Record-breaking rainfall is making waves in the agriculture community of Shenandoah County. Data collected from Luray in Page County — the closest available to Shenandoah County — shows the region is ready to shatter rainfall records for the last five years. Through eight months and early September, 48.16 inches of precipitation has fallen, only 1.38 inches off 2013’s total.

The heavy rains from May to August were the wettest months by far on record in the last five years. Local farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs are torn how they feel about the record-setting weather.

“We were fortunate enough to get our first cut of hay made. And then with all this rain, our second crop was phenomenal,” Gary Lantz of Cannon Hill Farm said. “We had a little over 100 acres of hay.”

Lantz’s second crop has only produced 40-50 percent of his first crop in previous years. This year he said it was almost equal.

While the rain helped boost Lantz’s harvest, it devastated some smaller operations.

Tony Hymes, owner of Mountain View Vineyard near Strasburg, walks through his vineyard surveying damage by the summer's rains. Rich Cooley/Daily

Tony Hymes is the owner, operator and sole employee of Mountain View Vineyard. Hymes started the vineyard as a retirement project back in 2002. By 2008 Hymes had his first vintage ready to sell.

Hymes is getting ready to bottle his ninth vintage, but No. 10 will elude him for now.

“This year the red yield is zero,” Hymes said. “Last year it was 5-7 tons.”

Hymes’ three-acre vineyard didn’t fare well in the summer’s rough weather. By mid-July, Hymes said, the red grapes started turning black and falling off. By late August there wasn’t anything left.

Now is the time when Hymes would usually start harvesting, but this year has been a wash.

“We’re at a complete loss of red. I’d definitely attribute that to the wetness,” he said. “My worst [year] by far. Nothing has come even close to being this bad.”

Hymes said he is glad he isn’t relying on the vineyard for his livelihood. It might be a pet project but he has grown accustomed to better results.

A normal crop yields 300 to 400 gallons of red wine and 200 to 300 gallons of white, Hymes said. This year, he won’t produce any red wine and only about 30 gallons of white — not close enough to be worth selling.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released its forecast for apple, grape and peach production last month. Grape production in the U.S. was projected to be up 4 percent (7.66 million tons) from 2017; however, Virginia production is forecast is fall 310 tons.

Inclement weather did more than drown crops. For some small businesses, it kept them from getting started on time.

“I was late getting my seeds out,” Amy Lee, one of the duo who make up the Lush and Local Flower Ladies said. “I had a ton of my seed just washed away.”

Once the flowers came up they had to fight the mud and clay. “You’d sink in above your ankles in mud,” Kelsie Mast said.

On the bright side, Mast said her garden has been low maintenance. She usually waters once or twice a week. This year, she’s only had to check a handful of times. “In that respect, it’s been wonderful,” she said.

As summer wraps up growers are hoping the weather dries out, and they can have a return to normal.

“It’s just been a hard year,” Lee said. “I’m trying to focus not to focus on how bad it’s been and think about how much better it’s going to be next year.”

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