Drought Stalking Far Southwest Virginia

6/28/2014 7:00 AM
By Jane W. Graham Virginia Correspondent

A frenzy of haymaking marked the beginning of summer in far southwest Virginia and left growers looking skyward, hoping for some rain to jump-start grass that’s been stressed by lack of rain.

The U.S. Drought Monitor reported on June 19 that some far southwestern Virginia counties were suffering from moderate drought conditions, while most of southwest Virginia was classified as “abnormally dry.”

Conditions have changed a little in parts of one county, Dickinson County, according to Brad Mullins, an Extension agent. He said in a telephone interview that some areas of his county got about 2 inches of rain after the report figures were compiled.

Midweek weather predictions have raised hopes for rain this weekend. Farmers have been keeping an eye to the sky, listening for rumbles of thunder.

Mullins reported a lot of hay was put up in Dickinson County between June 13 and June 20. He said the hay crop was light due to both the dry weather and a late freeze in the area.

Mullins said it was one of the most unusual springs for pasture and hay lands he has seen. He said some older members of the farming community called it the worst or second worst spring in 40 years.

In a county where livestock is the main farm product, there is probably not going to be a lot of hay this year, Mullins predicted. And there is not a lot of surplus from past years.

“Not as bad as some places, but not as good as we need to be,” said Amy Osborne, an Extension agent in Lee County, the very last county in the southwestern point of the state.

She said she’s most worried about cattle producers in the county. Pasture and grass are in short supply, she said, and producers are trying to keep their brood stock and maybe buy some more cows.

Some cattle producers in Lee County have begun looking for pasture to lease in an effort to maintain their herds, she said.

On the other hand, Osborne said tobacco in Lee County is doing well and actually benefits from this kind of weather early in its growing season. Corn is beginning to grow there as well. She predicted tobacco and corn will do well if they get rain at the right time.

Lee County got some spotty showers Monday, which helped conditions in some parts of the county, she said.

“It’s dry,” said Bill Worrell, an Extension forestry agent in nearby Russell County. He estimates there is a 6-inch rain deficit in the county. This time last year, Worrell said the county was about 6 inches above normal rainfall.

Worrell said he is getting a lot more calls about urban forest and landscape plants. Freeze damage from early spring combined with lack of moisture is beginning to affect these plants. He said there are also increased insect problems being reported in urban plants.

Asked about forests, Worrell indicated it is too soon to determine if the dry weather is affecting tree growth. It has contributed to a greatly increased number of forest fires in the area, he said.

Some reports indicated the dryer conditions had moved further northeast up the Interstate-81 corridor. Osborne said a Smyth County cattleman told her this week that conditions looked worse there than in Lee County.

Farmers in the New River Valley have also expressed concern about the lack of rain.

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