04/28/10 — Dry spell no worry for crops ... so far

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Dry spell no worry for crops ... so far

By Laura Collins
Published in News on April 28, 2010 1:46 PM

While the recent lack of rain has proved something of a problem for Wayne County farmers, most crops that have been planted are doing well.

Extension Agent Kevin Johnson said it has been dry so far this season, with only a tenth of an inch of rain on Saturday and four-tenths of an inch last week.

"We had a lot from November to the first of March, and since then it's been dry. Right now we need rain, but we're not in any kind of dire straits," he said. "Tobacco looks good, and corn looks good."

Farmers began planting corn around the first of the month. Johnson expects the county to have about 30,000 acres, which is about the same amount as last year.

Currently, farmers are transplanting tobacco into the fields from their greenhouses. Johnson said he expects about 10,000 acres of tobacco this year, which is also close to the same amount as last year.

"We lost some tobacco growers this year due to several factors," he said. "You just don't have as many people using tobacco. And (the government) has added more taxes to tobacco products and that's hurting consumption, too."

About 10 Wayne farmers have ceased to grow tobacco, Johnson said, but the acreage has not decreased.

"Tobacco has been the predominant crop for 100 years. It's provided for us, and we're going through a serious transition where tobacco is not the predominant crop," he said. "The big money maker in the county is livestock."

Farmer John McClenny, of McClenny Farms in the Smith Chapel community, said when it comes to the tobacco industry as a whole, there is "definite uncertainty" about the future. McClenny said he cut his crop by about 50 acres from last year. He plans to finish planting 150 acres of tobacco this week.

"It's looking good so far," McClenny said. "The wind is the toughest thing on it. It's just like shooting it with a wind blaster. Last year, there were several areas replanted because of the wind."

McClenny added the little bit of rain his farm received last week might save him from having to replant tobacco this year.

In addition to tobacco, McClenny plans on planting his 600 acres of cotton starting this week and next. He said the small amount of recent rain has been helpful.

"We were getting dry, but the rain at the end of last week helped. We could use some more rain, but we're not at a crucial stage," he said.

Johnson said he expects cotton acreage to increase in the county. Three years ago, there were about 16,000 acres of cotton. Last year, there were only 6,000 acres.

"Cotton has been really cheap in the past few years," Johnson said. "Now that price is coming back a little but the farmers are starting to plant cotton more."

He estimates this year the cotton crop in the county will be about 10,000 acres.

The real victim of the wet, cold weather over most of the winter has been the winter wheat crop.

"There's nothing we can do about the wheat," Johnson said. "It was the worst winter ever for the wheat crop. Rainfall was too much, and if it wasn't raining it was too cold."

Johnson said about 65 percent of what farmers intended to plant was actually planted and only about 60 percent of what was planted will be taken to yield. Normally the county has about 25,000 acres of winter wheat, but this year it will likely only be about 15,000 acres.

"And the wheat that is out there isn't going to be a bumper crop," Johnson said. "It didn't tiller like it's supposed to, the crop is very thin and short. There were a lot of environmental issues."

McClenny said his farm planned for 500-550 acres of wheat, but he ended up planting only half that amount.

"Of that half, probably about 60 to 70 acres are not worth taking to harvest," he said.