Agricultural Drought Eases, But It May be Temporary

Crops Stage Dramatic Comeback

Call it the luck of the fall (of rain) or call it the law of averages playing out or just call it seasonally normal rain fall (July is the 2nd wettest month of the year after all). Whatever, the tone in my beat calls today to farmers and extension agents was as optimistic as I have heard all season long.

Let’s start out with the obvious. This month’s rains are at or above normal for most of the WSAZ.COM region after Thursday and Friday’s back to back cloudbursts. In fact, the deluge that hit Snowshoe on Friday night (where I went for a weekend of golf) was among the heaviest I have ever been through. I will bet an inch of rain fell in 15 minutes driven by a swirling wind that turned umbrellas inside out in a heart beat. Said Matt White of Huntington, who was camping on the Elk River in nearby Randolph County, “the low water bridges on the Dry Fork of The Elk were totally under water Saturday morning after the monsoon”.

Of course, rainfall varies county to county, mile to mile and sometimes even street to street in these summer showers. Witness the Yeager airport’s 5.18” of rain for the month of July. That’s above the 4 inch July normal. On the flip side, the Huntington airport has tallied only 3 inches of rain this month, an inch below the 120 year average. Still, even the 3 inch amount has been enough to green up lawns and help pool owners stave off the high water bills of early summer.

As for our crops, Matt Lewis of Scioto County tells me the soybean crop has made a wild comeback. Recall, I had reported how the Scioto bean crop was in jeopardy back in June. Granted, Matt’s first planting failed, but a replant in mid June has caught a favorable rain pattern and now. “I expect to harvest a good yielding soy crop come fall IF the rains keep coming”.

Myron Evans, Carter County extension agent agrees. “The tobacco is thriving here in the county and farmers are optimistic for a bountiful yield in late summer”. It was here in June that I reported from the Steve Glass tobacco fields along the Little Sandy. Then Steve had told me his great-grand father had said rain in May made of a good tobacco crop. Well, after a parched May, Steve Said we would need to make up for the dryness with rain in June and July. Well, 8 weeks later, those rains have come and now the lush tobacco crop is set for a hardy yield of burly tobacco. In fact, only one or 2 more downpours will assure a good crop in August. In Carter County, that would mean a million dollars for the local economy, proving the adage that the green leaves bring greenbacks to tobacco farmers.

My final call to Putnam County extension agent Wayne Bennett magnified the difference in an agricultural and water table drought. Wayne reminded me the first cut of hay in May was 30-40% short due to the drought. At that point, the grass in hay fields was dormant since there was no surplus of water deep in the ground from which the grass could feed off . When the summer rains finally came, it took a few weeks for the grass to emerge from its slumber and begin to grow. That means the second cut of hay, due in August, will also be short. “And if we don’t get rains in the next few weeks, that 2nd cut will be in jeopardy. At this point we need frequent showers to keep the topsoil moist since there continues to be no water deep down in the ground.”

I add that quote from Wayne since my favorite long range computer model from the European Weather Centre suggests we are about to begin a long, punishing and potentially rain free heat wave. If this wave materializes, late summer crop growth will have to rely on moisture stored in the ground during the wetness of July. That could mean still another roll of the dice for hay and cattle farmers in West Virginia who have suffered the worst in this drought and scorching summer of 2007.

Tomorrow’s blog will focus of the coming heat wave and the DOG DAYS OF SUMMER.

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