06/24/05 — Drought has Wayne parched

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Drought has Wayne parched

By Turner Walston
Published in News on June 24, 2005 1:45 PM

Withering cornstalks and widening sandbars in the Neuse River tell the tale.

Wayne County is in the middle of a drought.

Farmers and government officials say that without significant rain in the next few days the situation could become critical.

Wayne had less than four inches of rain in May and has had only 1.24 inches this month. Normal rainfall for June, according to weather officials at Seymour John-son Air Force Base, would be 4.4 inches.

Forecasters are calling for only scattered showers through early next week.

"We are significantly lower in rainfall than we are typically this time of year," said Karen Brashear, public utilities di-rector for the city of Goldsboro.

Mrs. Brashear said she had been comparing this year's rainfall with numbers from 2002, which was a drought year across the state. She said rainfall is running about 7 inches behind normal.

As of about 5 a.m. this morning, the Neuse River level was at just over 3 feet, Mrs. Brashear said. She noted that the ideal level would be above 5 feet.

Mrs. Brashear said she would meet with Mayor Al King and City Manager Joe Huffman next week to discuss the possibility of declaring voluntary conservation efforts for the city. Goldsboro gets its drinking water from the river.

Despite the hot, dry conditions, she said water demand was not unusual for this time of year.

The situation has not yet reached the point where the city has had to consider imposing restrictions, Mrs. Brashear said.

"So far, we're not there yet," she said.

Kevin Johnson, extension agent with the Wayne County Extension Service, said the lack of rain is hurting farmers.

"It's hot and dry," he said, "and the crops are suffering real bad right now."

Johnson said the corn crop is the most in need of rain.

"This is the critical time when it really needs water," he said, "because it has to pollinate in order to create those kernels on the ear.

"If it doesn't rain in the next week, we're going to have some real issues with the corn crop," he said. "Some of it, I think, is already almost lost."

Johnson said the dry conditions also are causing tobacco plants to grow unevenly.

"The farmers have a problem if half the crop is ready to top, and the other half is not," Johnson said. "You want the crop to be even. It's easier to manage."

He said some farmers have begun to irrigate their tobacco although most do not have the equipment nor the water source to draw from.

"They're at the mercy of the weather," he said.

Johnson said most farmers are holding off planting soybeans until it rains. With no moisture in the soil, he pointed out, the seeds would not germinate.

"There's no moisture in the soil, and the crop wouldn't come up," he said.

Johnson said the cotton crop was not yet in trouble but he said farmers should wait to spray growth regulation chemicals until it rains.

He said farmers are accustomed to having sporadic droughts.

"We go through these cycles. You'll have a couple good years and you'll have a couple years where it's kind of droughty," Johnson said.

Bruce Howell, who grows tobacco and cucumbers in the Mar-Mac and Rosewood areas, said he's not waiting on the rain.

"We're just irrigating every day," he said. "We're trying to even it up, keep it wet, but it ain't working too good," he said of his 100-acre tobacco crop.