First mud, then snow, hampering Va. farmers
The diversity of Virginia’s agriculture enabled the Dec. 9 snowstorm to create all kinds of problems for farmers.
Most happened on a foundation of mud from other extreme moisture event.
Farm size made no difference to the weather as it challenged small fresh produce growers, livestock farmers and the Christmas tree industry, among others.
Folks who were already sick of mud from the year’s earlier bad weather dealt snow melt and more rain on Dec 14.
Tenley Weaver of Floyd County grows fresh produce in two high tunnel hoop greenhouses.
She said she is grateful her houses did not collapse in the storm.
Some of her neighbors were not so fortunate. Theirs’ did.
She said some growers beat the walls inside their greenhouses for most of the storm or tried to remove it from the outside to keep them from falling from under the weight of the rapidly falling snow.
Robert Mills in Pittsylvania County reported some tobacco farmers lost their conventional to the snow as well.
Transportation of all kinds was a major problem across the industry.
Weaver talked of slogging back and forth through snow to the greenhouses and of the challenge of getting fresh produce to customers on time.
She and her husband operate a distributorship, Locomotive, that gathers produce from around 30 farmers in a 100-mile radius and transports it to customers who then get it to consumers in various ways.
Their main challenge was 20-plus inches of snow in their area.
In Burkes Garden on top of a mountain in Tazewell County dairy farmer Rick Snapp was glad the milk truck made it in and out and that none of his cows had frozen teats.
Snapp has the contract with the highway department to clear roads in The Garden as his community is known.
He started on Friday, Dec. 7 and finished at 4 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 12.
He said high winds kept the snow blowing, creating drifts and reclosing roads that had to be opened again.
On Tuesday night he said the National Weather Service’s official low temperature for his community was minus 11 degrees.
“None of the tractors started,” he said of his farming operation.
Snapp said hey were needed do the feeding.
It was after lunch before they were operational.
Mills reported 18 inches fell in Pittsylvania making it difficult for the cattle business.
A calf born in the storm did not make it and he lost a cow.
He said he had to take a gate off the hinges to get past a three-foot snow drift blocking it.
Mills encountered transportation problems too.
He said those with confined livestock and poultry houses were faced with getting feed to their facilities.
His operation includes a poultry house.
Mitchell Bottemley who farms in several areas including Grayson and Wythe counties and is a leader in the Christmas tree industry, said he lost 20 cows from a large herd in a five-day period.
He reported still having 500 acres of corn to harvest in Wythe County.
Mud has kept harvesters out of the field.
Mud, Bottomley stressed, has been a problem all fall for his Christmas tree business.
He said his business is the largest Christmas tree grower in North America.
Getting trees out of the muddy fields and to customers in the United States, Mexico, Canada and Puerto Rica has challenged him.
Bottomley said the land where his trees grow in Virginia and North Carolina are torn up from the battles with mud and snow.
“Snow hurt us on the last trees we shipped,” he reported.
Bottomley explained he has been growing Christmas trees for 20 years and said this is the hardest year he’s ever had.
Several folks expressed appreciation for the forecasts that prepared them ahead of the storm so they could be ready to meet it head on with a plan.
“It just takes time,” one cattleman said.
He had been out long before daylight feeding cattle.
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