07/13/10 — Crops in critical need of rain

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Crops in critical need of rain

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on July 13, 2010 1:46 PM

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Wayne County Cooperative Extension Agriculture Agent Kevin Johnson examines the corn on Mike Williams' farm south of Goldsboro. The crop has passed its critical tasseling stage without enough water to ensure a good yield, he said. Much of the corn crop in Wayne and surrounding counties has suffered from a combination of extreme heat and little rain.

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An irrigation system sprays David Vinson's tobacco patch Monday afternoon on St. John's Church Road in southeastern Wayne County.

Abnormally dry conditions have returned to Wayne County and much of North Carolina and it is taking a heavy toll on crop production.

Wayne is one of 62 counties experiencing an abnormally dry period, according to the North Carolina Drought Management Advisory Council.

Abnormally dry does not mean Wayne County is in a drought, but indicates that if rainfall deficits continue, the area could return to drought conditions. An additional 18 counties in the western and northeastern parts of the state are experiencing moderate drought conditions.

The dry weather has hurt many farmers' crops, especially corn, said county Extension Agent Kevin Johnson.

"I'm not going to say it's completely destroyed, but we'll harvest about a third of what we normally do. We probably lost about two-thirds," he said Monday.

The county may harvest as few as 30 bushels of corn per acre this year on average, as opposed to the 110 bushels per acre normally expected. This is the third year in a row that local weather conditions have been tough for growing corn, which needs rain especially at its tasseling stage in late June.

"We had probably the hottest, driest June that anybody can remember," Johnson said.

Wayne County reportedly experienced 23 consecutive days with temperatures above 90 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

Farmers are now turning their attention to tobacco, which Johnson said also is in "pretty bad shape." But he added that it is too soon to tell how the crop will be ultimately affected. Tobacco is less dependent on water than corn.

"I do think our (tobacco) yields are going to be reduced, I don't know by how much," he said.

Soybeans have also had a "hard time" this year, but soybeans and cotton, which are planted later, still have a lot of growing season left, Johnson pointed out.

The Wayne and Duplin area received some rain over the weekend. The rain came too late to help the corn, but may aid other crops, primarily tobacco. Farmers in various parts of the county reported receiving anywhere from 0.5 to 2.5 inches of rain. The Princeton area seems to be one of the driest areas, Johnson noted.

Abnormally dry conditions returned to North Carolina in April, ending a four-month period of normal precipitation for most of the state, according to the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. It was the first such period of normal rainfall for all of the state's 100 counties since 2007. Moderate drought conditions returned to the state in June for the first time since the summer of 2009.

Although no local restrictions have been issued, Wayne residents can help conserve water through small steps such as installing low-flow shower heads, turning off the water when brushing teeth, doing only full loads of laundry, washing dishes by hand and repairing any leaking toilets, according to a tip sheet from the state.