Isle of Wight farmers experience damaged crops, sodden fields from Hurricane Matthew

hismith@dailypress.com

Farmers in Isle of Wight were set back at least a week in production after Hurricane Matthew brought more than 10 inches of rain to some parts of the county last weekend.

Janet Spencer, the county's agricultural extension agent, said it's too early to determine any negative effects on crop quality and yield rates. Corn has already been harvested, but farmers are still tending to soybeans, cotton, peanuts and even sorghum, commonly used as cereal grain. Another rain in coming weeks could mean a serious loss, both in labor and money, according to Rex Alphin, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors and a local farmer.

On his farm, Alphin has "420 acres of peanuts plowed up," he said. "Haven't been able to pick them yet. Just lost a whole week waiting for our land to dry out."

Besides peanuts, Alphin grows corn and cotton on the 1,400-acre farm on River Run Trail.

Alphin said people in the area weren't able to prepare adequately for the drenched fields, since forecasts predicted between 1 and 3 inches of rain. The land is still weak in areas, and can't hold the heavy equipment needed to plow and harvest. He believes many will likely wait two more days before going out on their farms to let the ground dry again.

But it's more than losing a week of work, he said. If more rain hits the county, some farmers will face unexpected debts, Alphin said. Most farmers borrow money to plant their crops, and later — regardless of how the plants do — "you got this big bill sitting there, waiting for you," he said.

He wasn't able to harvest last week until Friday, when he went out to collect a load of peanuts. One load is between 35,000 and 40,000 peanuts, according to Alphin's father, Bob Alphin. A small area of peanuts on the farm was washed out by the rains and will be lost, Bob Alphin said Friday.

Lucas Braswell, who owns 2,100 acres of land on Blue Ridge Trail, said the water from Hurricane Matthew also set him back a week in crop maintenance. And he was already one week behind, he said. However, he hasn't noticed any direct damage to the cotton on his farm.

"As far as messing up crops, I really don't think it did any damage to the crops," he said. But, "If we were to get any more water like that, we'd be in serious trouble."

Cecil Byrum, another county farmer, said as much as half of his cotton was damaged from the recent rain. Byrum owns a 2,500-acre farm in the Windsor area, where he grows corn, cotton and soybeans. The rain damaged both the quality and yield of his cotton, he said. Some bowls on the stems of the plants aren't opening like they should, which means they won't be harvestable. He will know the full damage in a couple of weeks.

The crop damage rate for the county will be available in coming weeks, Spencer said. The weather is expected to be mostly sunny through Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.

"Farmers are testing the waters," Rex Alphin said. "The weather report looks good. We're hoping for no rain for a month — that's what we need to get our crops."

Smith can be reached by phone at 757-510-1663.

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