06/01/07 — Lack of rain hurting crops

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Lack of rain hurting crops

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on June 1, 2007 1:46 PM

Farmers across Wayne and surrounding counties are anxiously awaiting rain to help their young crops. A drought across much of the Southeast has many worried, even before their fields of corn, cotton and soybeans reach knee-high.

"I don't think the yield has been greatly reduced yet, but we're reaching a critical stage," said Mack Grady, who farms in the Seven Springs area.

Ideally, farmers would see about an inch of rain a week. But Wayne farmers have seen nowhere near that much water. Only three-tenths of an inch of rain fell in Wayne during May. April's total was much better but most of it fell in one large storm. Less than an inch of rain fell in March. A number of counties to the west have already asked residents to curtail their water use as supplies diminish.

Forecasters are predicting a slight chance of scattered thunderstorms this weekend and early next week. But thunderstorms don't always bring the type of rain that farmers need most. If rain does fall on Wayne this weekend, Grady and Charlie McClenny, another southern Wayne farmer, said their land could use anywhere from two to three inches over a two-day period.

"That's what we call a 'slow soaker,'" McClenny said

A sudden downpour can allow much of the rainfall to run off and not soak into the soil where it is needed.

Because of the high temperatures over the past several weeks, North Carolina Cooperative Extension Agent Kevin Johnson said a half inch of rain from a scattered thunderstorm wouldn't even soak into the soil to help the county's crops. That kind of rainfall would be dry within half a day, Johnson added.

The drought conditions have also had an effect on county residents. A majority of Wayne's sanitary water districts, including Fork Township, Eastern Wayne, Belfast-Patetown, Northwestern Wayne, Southeastern Wayne and Southwestern Wayne, have asked residents to voluntarily cut back on their water usage before mandatory restrictions are put into effect.

But unlike farmers, the recent dry weather does not potentially hurt the pocketbook and livelihood of the everyday resident.

Adding to the desperation of the situation is the fact that many Wayne County farmers planted more corn this year, due to expected high prices. Corn needs water more than cotton or tobacco, especially during its tasseling stage, when the plant produces ears.

"I've seen my fair share of dry and wet years. But as the old saying goes -- what my granddad and dad told me -- 'A dry year will scare you and a wet year will ruin you,'" McClenny said. "But this is one of the driest years I've seen."