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Wet summer prolonging harvests for local growers

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Farmer Jeff Spence looks over a soybean plant during the Pasquotank Farm Tour off Sound Neck Road, Thursday. Spence, who farms about 850 acres of soybeans and more than 400 acres of corn in the Newland area, says the overly wet conditions this summer have made harvesting his corn crop a challenge.

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Friday, August 25, 2017

It may not go down as Pasquotank County’s wettest summer ever, but this summer’s deluges of rain, including one just Wednesday, will make it one for local farmers to long remember — and not in a good way.

As of Thursday, the rain gauge at Coast Guard Base Elizabeth City showed 17.52 inches of rainfall since June 1 — 2.38 inches above normal for what’s usually the warmest period of the year. Overall for the year, 34.49 inches of rain has fallen thus far — 2.18 inches above normal for only eight months into the year.

That much rainfall this time of year has caused several problems for local growers, according to Al Wood, agriculture agent for the Pasquotank Center of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service and a row-crop expert.

One key problem, Wood said, is that the deluges of rain made farm fields too soft for farm equipment to plant soybeans. When conditions were finally dry enough to plant, the hard rains that followed caused the upper part of the soil to harden to a crust, creating a suffocating effect on the soybean seeds, he said.

“Just like us, they have to have air to live,” Wood said.

Compounding the problem of too much rain are poor drainage conditions. According to Wood, Pasquotank’s table-top flat terrain lacks enough slight upslopes to prompt drainage. At the same time, there are dips in the inner parts of farm fields. That combination leads to standing water.

“That's where they (farmers in Pasquotank) get in trouble,” he said.

Some farmers are trying to correct poor drainage through land-leveling techniques, but the problem still persists, he said.

Jeff Spence, who grows about 850 acres of soybeans and more than 400 acres of corn in Newland, is a Pasquotank farmer affected by the overly wet summer.

“It's been a struggle,” Spence commented as he ate breakfast with other farmers Thursday at the Pasquotank County Extension Center prior to departing on the annual Pasquotank Farm Tour. The tour, sponsored by N.C. Cooperative Extension, provides farmers a chance to catch up on the latest crop varieties in trial plots, as well as chat with agriculture experts from N.C. State University.

Despite the wet summer, Spence said he recently started harvesting corn. He said the crop, which was planted in April, looks good. The problem is getting the weather to cooperate, he said.

“We're were doing good until last night's rain,” Spence said, adding that because of the wet ground, his harvesters will remain shut down until Monday.

He said his soybeans, which were planted in May, will be harvested in October.

“They're looking fine,” he said.

Asked how he’s dealt with the overly wet summer, Spence, 61, suggested it takes a lot of patience.

“You just do the best you can — and you go when you can go and stop when you have to,” he said.

At another table eating breakfast prior to Thursday’s farm tour was Glenn Pendleton, who has been farming for 42 years. Like Spence, his soybeans and corn crops have been affected by the overly wet summer.

“It has been challenging with all the rain so far this year,” he said.

Pendleton said fields have often been too wet to get crops planted on time. Then, when he did get crops planted, the rains came and forced him to go back and replant them.

He encountered a lot of problems trying to get a stand of soybeans, he said. His crews started planting soybeans in early May and were still planting at the end of July. He has about 1,000 acres of soybeans, which he plans to harvest the middle of next month.

“Not the best looking beans,” he said, commenting on the quality of the crop.

On the positive side, Pendleton's corn crop, which he planted in April, has generally turned out pretty good, he said. He plans to start harvesting his 500 acres of corn sometime next month.

All the rain did hurt his potato crop, he said. Pendleton completed his harvest of 250 acres of potatoes in July, a harvest he wasn’t pleased with, he said.

Although this summer has seen more rainfall than normal, Pendleton, 62, recalled that the summer of 1979 was a particularly wet summer as well.

Compounding farmers’ problems, according to Wood, are the current low prices for farm commodities.

“It's not good right now,” he said, citing the lack of demand and noting America competes in a world market. Wood believes corn prices need to be at least $4.50 to $5 a bushel for Pasquotank corn farmers to turn a profit. Corn prices on Thursday were at $3.41 a bushel.

The picture is no brighter for soybeans.

Wood believes soybean prices need to be at least $11.50 to $12 a bushel for Pasquotank soybean farmers to turn a profit. Soybean prices on Thursday were holding at $9.40 a bushel.

While the overall quality of this year’s crops will be fine, the fact remains prices for them aren’t where they need to be, Wood said.

“The big thing is we need higher prices,” he said.

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