09/28/10 — Raindrops kept falling Monday, but much too late for farmers

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Raindrops kept falling Monday, but much too late for farmers

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 28, 2010 1:46 PM

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A bicyclist dressed in rain gear makes his way through a steady rain as he pedals down Berkeley Boulevard on Monday afternoon. After several weeks of dry weather, rain is forecast for Wayne County for the next several days.

Mike Jones was glad to see the soaking rain fall on his Nahunta-area farmland over the past two days -- even if it came too late to salvage what he calls his worst crop season in 34 years.

As of Monday afternoon, rainfall totaled as much as 6.5 inches in some parts of the county, and while it brought welcomed relief from the oppressive heat, it came too late to help any of the county's crops with the possible exception of late-maturing soybeans.

A chance of rain continues through Thursday night, with heavy downpours possible tonight.

Thus far, there have been no reports of flooding or road closures in the county.

"It will depend on what happens tonight," said Mel Powers, emergency management and security coordinator for the county. "People who live in low-lying areas always need to remain vigilant."

In the city, there were the "typical" drainage issues when a large amount of rain falls in a short time, said Neil Bartlett, public works director. In most cases, that minor street flooding happens when a catch basin cannot keep up with the flow, he said.

City crews were busy Monday keeping the basins clear and will be out again today making sure they are clear for possible heavy rains tonight, he said.

Not unexpectedly, a few limbs were down and more could fall, but there have been no real problems, he said.

The only other rainfall in September was about a tenth of an inch on Sept. 11. The last significant amount, just under an inch, fell on Aug. 24.

Any relief this week's rain brought was to elevate the water table and leave farmland in better shape for wheat planting that will soon start. Jones said he already has his wheat seed.

"We definitely needed the rain and to get the water table up, but the only crop it might help will be late-maturing soybeans," he said. "I don't think it will help the early soybeans. They were already dead or dying. (The season) is a disaster. It is the worst crop since I started farming in 1976. The only crop that I say would be average is cotton. Everything else, as they matured, the drought and heat wiped it out."

It is not unusual to have the weather destroy one crop, said Jones who grows tobacco, rye wheat, corn, soybeans and cotton.

"But I have never had one that destroyed every crop I had," he said.

Jones had just finished up his tobacco harvest, so the rain was no help there, he said.

Jones' experiences are shared by farmers across the county, Agriculture Extension Agent Kevin Johnson said.

Johnson said he had been using a post-hole digger recently and just two feet down the dirt had been like a brick. The soaking rain will help the soil. Crops would have benefited had the rain fallen weeks ago, he said.

Poor crop yields are expected from rye, corn, wheat and tobacco, Johnson said.

"We still have soybeans in the fields, but I think it is too late for them," he said.

While some tobacco remains in the field, most has already been harvested, Johnson added. The rest will probably be in by the end of the week, he said.

Some of the tobacco crop has yet to be sold, making it difficult to say what the golden leaf will average. However, Johnson expects that the price will be "significantly down" from last year's $1.75 average per pound.

Tobacco literally burned up in the field and the leaf that is being sold is being labeled "sun baked" or "sun scalded" resulting in lower prices being paid, he said. The tobacco just could not handle the more than 90 days of 90-degree and hotter weather, he said.

The lack of rain combined with heat and drought "ruined" corn and tobacco, he said.

The corn crop that should have averaged 105 to 110 bushels per acre might make 55 bushels this year -- about half a crop, he said.

"We did not get rain in April and that killed the wheat crop," Johnson said.

Wheat is expected to average 40 bushels per acre when 65 are need "to even break even," he said.

"Cotton is the one crop that is not too bad, but the acreage is down from where it used to be because the price had been down," Johnson said.

However, the price worldwide is higher, meaning a better price for the local crop, he said.

Cotton tolerates heat better than other crops, and Johnson said he has heard reports of yields of two bales (about 1,000 pounds) per acre.

"That is pretty good," he said.

The rain might hurt the cotton's color somewhat, Johnson said.

"The rain helped and we needed it. We need moisture in the soil. We still have animals eating hay. We need to get the water table back so we can plant wheat within the month and get the topsoil and moisture back to where it needs to be."

Wayne County has been about 13.5 inches below its normal rainfall for the year and has been in moderate drought conditions. The northern part of the county has been particularly hard hit. From Goldsboro south, conditions have been somewhat better.

Johnson said the way the rain fell will make a difference. While heavy at times, there were breaks, giving the rain time to soak into the ground and not run off into streams and creeks.

"But we needed it weeks ago," he said.