04/26/06 — Rain helps crops; strawberries look good

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Rain helps crops; strawberries look good

By Turner Walston
Published in News on April 26, 2006 1:49 PM

Recent rain has helped farmers with spring planting, said county Extension Service agent Kevin Johnson. The inch or so of rain that fell on Saturday has allowed many farmers who had not begun planting cotton and tobacco to start, Johnson said.

Although the rainfall was helpful, eastern North Carolina's rainfall total remains well below the average for this time of year. So far, about 2.5 inches of rain has fallen in April in Wayne County. Forecasts call for more rain over the next few days.

"We're still 6 to 8 inches below normal, where we should be for the year," Johnson said. "That's important. That stretches beyond agriculture."

Johnson said the lack of moisture has already affected the county's wheat crop.

"The yield potential is not what it could have been, but it's not a disaster," he said.

Still, any rain is good rain at this point, he said.

"That was definitely nice," Johnson said of Saturday's rain. "If we didn't get rain, the wheat crop was going to be a total failure."

The moisture is good for tobacco, too, he said. "After the rainfall, you could tell it greened up a little bit," he said. "It needed moisture bad."

E.L. Smith, who grows 100 acres tobacco and about 300 acres of cotton in the Hood Swamp community, agreed with Johnson's assessment.

"We're setting out the tobacco right now, and it's perfect to get some moisture in the ground," Smith said. "We'll start planting cotton probably within the next week."

Previous rains had provided enough moisture to put crops in the ground, but the weekend's waterfall will help it get off to a better start, he pointed out.

"We really needed some more to ensure we had enough to get it up," Smith said. "This is a good start. We'll need some more before too long, but this will carry us a long way," Smith said. "If we get too much, we can't plant. The ground will get so moist we'll have to stop. But this is perfect."

Harvesting of one of the area's seasonal crops is now in full swing, Johnson said. "We're in the peak of strawberries right now," he said. The fruits are ripe and the crop this year appears to be a good one, he said.

"There seems to be a good crop of them," Smith said. "We've been picking about a week," at Stomp Johnson's Produce Market on U.S. Highway 13, he said.

Strawberries are planted in October, and begin to ripen in mid-April, Smith said, with the prime picking season lasting until early June. "They're just starting to trickle in," Smith said of the pickers. "I think it's going to be a real good year."