09/26/05 — Ophelia was both good, bad for farms

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Ophelia was both good, bad for farms

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on September 26, 2005 1:46 PM

Farmers had an average year in Wayne County, with just enough rain to keep the crops going, but not enough for a banner year, local agriculture officials said.

And in Duplin County, farmers are just glad Hurricane Ophelia is gone, although they, too, welcomed the rain. They are waiting to see what effect this year's conditions will have on their main crops.

"It's not been anything to be really excited about, to be honest," said Kevin Johnson, an agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension's Wayne County office. "It's not been a disaster, though."

Johnson said the cool spring slowed down early-season growth of tobacco, cotton and corn. "After that, we were behind the eight-ball," he said.

The other big factor, Johnson said, was drought.

"We went through four weeks with no rain, and that really hurt our soybean crop," he said. "We were going to fill out papers with Rick Tharrington (of the Farm Service Agency) for disaster at the time. As soon as we'd get ready to do it, it always rained."

Farmer Jerry West of Fremont said it is still too early to judge the season as a whole.

"The jury's out, because we've still got cotton and soybeans in the field," West said. "Tobacco turned out good for what it went through." He said the tobacco crop experienced an array of harsh conditions.

"Early on it was cold conditions, then it was very wet at some times, then it went through a drought stage," West said of the crop. "It was dry and extremely hot."

West finished harvesting his tobacco crop just this week. He said the weather from Hurricane Ophelia was big for his farm.

"It helped it. If it hadn't been for those hurricane rains, I would have lost a lot of tobacco," he said.

Wheat was the big winner this year on his farm, West said.

"The wheat crop was the best wheat crop we've ever had. The cool weather that we were experiencing that really had us worried about tobacco was actually helping wheat."

West said his corn crop has become more resilient in recent years.

"It's a lot more drought-tolerant. Our corn that we're picking is averaging 115 to 120 bushels. That's not as good as last year, but we're thankful for the season we had," he said.

West anticipated the cotton crop being "fairly good."

"It's not the best it's ever been, but it's in no way the worst," he said.

West said questions lingered about the soybean crop. "We just don't know how they're going to finish up."

Duplin farmers picked corn as many hours a day as they could during the week prior to Hurricane Ophelia coming through.

But Duplin Crop Agent Curtis Fountain with the Cooperative Extension Service said 60 percent of the corn was still not harvested after the hurricane blew through.

"It is remarkable the amount we picked in the last week as the growers became aware of the storm," he said. "They worked long hours, picked on Sunday, and some mills stayed open Sunday."

Southeastern parts of the county that were closer to the eye of the storm received 4.3 inches of rain, and farms around Summerlin's Crossroads and Beautancus received around 3 inches.

Most of the tobacco was already in the barns when Hurricane Ophelia brushed through the southern end of the county causing about $217,000 worth of damage. The 500 acres left on the stalks was about 13 percent of this year's tobacco crop, Fountain said.

"A lot was being cured in the barns," he said. "We were concerned about power outages. But most of the farmers I heard from were in the southeastern part of the county, and they were out only two or three hours. And that was fine."

Cotton and peanuts will be the next to harvest,Fountain said. Some of the cotton is ready to be defoliated, a process that takes a couple weeks. He said he expects the cotton to be ready to harvest in early October.

And he said in early October, the farmers will probably be ready to start harvesting peanuts.

Fountain said he and the farmers would begin checking soon to see how mature the peanut crop is. Peanuts are a little behind this year, he said, because the weather was cool early in the season.

Farmers in Duplin grow late-maturing soybeans and time harvest for mid-November. Fountain said this allows the farmers time to get the tobacco and cotton out of the fields "so they don't mature before we're ready for them."

He said once the soybeans get ready to pick, they start popping out of their pods, so the farmers don't want them maturing before around Oct. 20 to mid-November.

"This rain was beneficial for our soybeans and peanuts," Fountain said. "It will help those crops from a yield standpoint, and with peanuts, it will make digging easier."

The soil was so dry before the storm, he said, the ground in some places was getting hard.

"We were very fortunate," he said.