Lack of rain this summer concerns farmers

Tjefferson@vagazette.com

The lack of rain over the last few months in the Williamsburg area has put farmers in a bind.

"A drought combined with the high temperatures has made it rough here the last couple of weeks," said Michelle Gulden, who owns and operates KelRae Farm in Toano.

As of Friday afternoon, there had been no measurable rain in Williamsburg since July 7 when .09 inches of rain fell, according to Thunder Eagle, a company that tracks weather.

Since Memorial Day, the Williamsburg area has had 3.41 inches of rain; the area usually averages 8.82 inches of rain during June and July, according to U.S. Climate Data.

Gulden said the crop that is most effected is corn.

"For the most part the majority of our crops are irrigated but that's from the root side but that doesn't take into account foliage on the plants," Gulden said. "Corn is the one crop we don't currently have irrigated."

In James City County, 5,544 acres are in farming, according to a study by the U.S. Census of Agriculture.

The affects of so little rain hasn't been felt at the York County or Williamsburg farmers markets yet.

"Some of the farmers have talked about (the lack of rain). We've had two farms that have had to crank up work in the fields," said Mark Medford, manager at the York County Farmers Market. "Our farmers are talking about the lack of rain but it hasn't impacted the way you think it would. Our customers are still satisfied but you can tell our farmers are struggling."

"It's concerning. I've been out to three farms this week and the ground is crunchy and hard," said Tracy Herner, Williamsburg Farmers Market manager. "The farmers have an irrigation plan in place. They're noting water level drops but as of yet, it hasn't caused any major problems as far as produce goes."

Elaine Lidholm from the Virginia Department of Agriculture said if the lack of rain continues then things could get worse for farmers.

Farmers throughout Virginia are experiencing the same issues according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture.

Over the last few weeks, topsoil moisture rates have dropped dramatically from when most of the state's farmers reported enough moisture for their crops earlier this month. Currently, 59 percent of Virginia's cropland was reported to be in serious need of rain, according to the Virginia Farm Bureau.

"I had farmers tell me this week that corn and soybeans are very heat stressed," Lidholm said.

Lidholm said soybeans has been the crop affected the most across the state by the lack of rain.

"Timing was so crucial this year with the early rain in the spring and the heat wave in the summer," Lidholm said. "The ones that were planted during the spring aren't even chest high in some areas because it was so rainy they didn't get a chance to grow."

Rain is forecasted for the Williamsburg area Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. The forecast beginning Sunday calls for mostly sunny conditions with temperatures hovering around the high 80s and the low 90s.

August begins on Tuesday and if last year is any indication, it could be another hot, dry month.

August 2016 was the warmest August recorded in Williamsburg, according to the National Weather Service; the temperature averaged 81 degrees. The usual temperature for August is around 78 degrees. The high temperature was above 90 degrees on 27 of August's 31 days last year.

Last August was not only hot, but it was drier than normal. The area had between two and three inches of rain; the usual accumulation is between four and five inches.

The National Weather Service couldn't give a precise outlook for rain this upcoming August.

"This time of the year it's tough to gauge the weather," said Mike Dutter from the National Weather Service in Wakefield. "For the rest of July and the month of August, it looks like equal chance of above normal or below normal rain."

Jefferson can be reached by phone at 757-790-9313.

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