Flash drought’s ‘impact is awful’
David Hudnall is already anticipating the financial ramifications of this summer’s flash drought.
Hudnall, who farms about 3,000 acres in Lancaster County, Va., in the state’s Northern Neck, lamented last week that he hadn’t planted his wheat due to a lack of soil moisture, and a significant chunk of his corn crop yielded just 80 bushels. As a result, he expects a 30- to 40-percent loss of income this year, which may require him to refinance debt on machinery and land.
“The impact is awful,” he said. “Our rapeseed and canola should have been in the ground 10 days ago.”
It’s a common problem across Delmarva. Despite record rains over the last year, the entire region was considered by the U.S. Drought Monitor to be “abnormally dry” or, worse, in an expanding moderate drought on Oct. 3. Chunks of central and western Virginia are in a severe drought.
Regional farming leaders said they expect the drought to delay wheat planting and potentially lower corn and soybean yields and other late-planted grains. The drought is reportedly stressing pastures and hayfields, and soil moisture has taken a severe hit, the National Weather Service said.
Delmarva is suffering a “flash drought” where short-term dryness and heat quickly overcome record precipitation. Most of the region has seen above-average temperatures each month since April and had less than a half-inch of rain in September. Maryland and Delaware have been rapidly slipping into drought conditions since early September while Virginia has been struggling since mid-August.
The last significant rain in Virginia was in early July. Less than 5 percent of all three states were drought-free last week.
In Talbot County, Md., Chip Councell said crops on his farm have been encouraging.
“We had a good corn crop. Single-crop soybeans were about average, so we were surprised they did as well as they did given what they’ve been through,” he said.
And while he doesn’t have high hopes for his double-crop soybeans, the farm’s cucurbits, which prefer drier weather, couldn’t be better.
“The quality and yield of the pumpkins is probably the best we’ve ever had,” he said.
University of Maryland Extension agents were preparing growers for potential disappointment last month. How severely warm weather and drought harm a corn crop depends primarily on its maturity when it experiences weather stress, said Nicole Fiorellino, an Extension agronomist, in an August essay. Four days of stress during silking, for instance, can reduce yields by up to half, she said.
“Silk emergence and pollination is a critical period of moisture use in corn, with weather stress affecting pollination and leading to kernel abortion,” she said.
In Virginia, many grain producers are struggling with the state’s cover crop program, which demands planting by dates chosen by the state, according to the Virginia Farm Bureau. Some farmers were planting now anyway, hoping for rain in the near future. Farmers with early-planted soybeans in Virginia have also suffered yield losses, the Farm Bureau said.
“Growers are hoping that as we get into the full harvest season the quality and yields will improve,” said Robert Harper, the Farm Bureau’s grain marketing manager, in a statement.
The weather service offered little hope of improvement in its last drought report on Sept. 26.
“Unfortunately, no relief is in sight, and conditions are likely to worsen,” the report said. “There are some hints at a longer-range return to at least more normal precipitation, and the Climate Prediction Center’s outlooks for both October and the rest of the calendar year do favor above-normal precipitation.
“Until and unless this occurs, though, all of the existing conditions will likely continue to deteriorate.”
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