Summertime heat putting stress on some crops—and farmers

NOKESVILLE—Virginia farmers are dealing with mid-summer heat as best they can, but some crops are showing the effects of a weeklong hot spell at the end of July.

“We had three days with a heat index in excess of 100 degrees. Temperatures were 95 to 102,” said Elaine Yankey, a Prince William-Fairfax County Farm Bureau member. Her son, Jay, and daughter-in-law, Sonja, run a vegetable farm and sell pick-your-own strawberries and pumpkins.

“Jay was running irrigation all week long. His farm has been unusual in that farms 5 miles south of us have gotten adequate rain, and the same for farms 7 to 8 miles north of us. It just happens that right in our little area we’ve been missed,” Yankey said.

Despite the heat, topsoil moisture levels were adequate or better for three-quarters of Virginia farms, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s weekly crop weather survey findings. But another few weeks of serious summer weather could change all that.

“With heat like this, we have to bring crews in at 2 a.m. instead of 5 a.m. in order to harvest the sod and get it out before it gets too hot,” explained Stephanie Cornell, a dairy, grain and sod farmer in Prince William County who serves on her local Farm Bureau board. “Getting it out early allows them to lay the sod and get water on it instead of the sod just sitting on the pallet and burning up.

“Then at midday, when it’s hottest, we’re pulling out irrigation reels and keeping the rest of the sod moist. It’s definitely been 14- to 15-hour days in the heat in order to produce good quality turfgrass this summer.”

The weekly survey reported that Virginia’s apple harvest is ahead of schedule, as is the peach harvest. Other crops are running behind due to last spring’s excessive wet weather. And forage crops are struggling.

Denise Gainey, a horse owner and Farm Bureau member in Amelia County, said conditions “literally went from some green in our pastures to brown and crunchy last week. No rain came, and there’s nothing out there now. It’s looking like we’re going to have to start feeding hay much sooner than we’d like to. Normally we’re not feeding hay until the end of October or the middle part of November, if then.”

Some corn and soybean yields may have been reduced after last week’s heat, the USDA crop weather report noted. Both cotton and peanuts are progressing slower than the five-year average.

Media: Contact Yankey at 703-754-7600, Cornell at 703-586-3212, Gainey at 804-561-2169 or Norm Hyde, VFBF communications, at 804-290-1146.

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