Pitt County’s corn crop is in “dire straits” and a number of other field crops are suffering due to this summer’s hot, dry weather, an agriculture expert said.
“Things are in pretty bad shape right now,” said Andy Burlingham, N.C. Cooperative Extension agriculture and livestock agent for Pitt County.
A prolonged dry spell in May and a more recent one in June have damaged crops, he said.
“Corn, by far, as been hurt the worst,” Burlingham said. “The corn crop is in dire straits.”
The yellow field corn grown in Pitt County is used as livestock feed for cattle, hogs and chickens in eastern North Carolina, Burlingham said. The hot, dry weather occurred right at a point in the corn’s development when it was critical for it to have water.
“It’s pretty well lost in some areas,” Burlingham said. “We’ve lost significant portions of the yield, if not the whole yield, in some fields.”
Burlingham estimated that farmers have lost 50 to 75 percent of their corn crop’s potential yield. A crop that might have yielded 160 bushels now may yield 40 or 50 bushels, he said.
Steve Sutton, owner of S & S Farms, a diversified family farm operation in Farmville, has been farming for 44 years. He has seen his corn crop suffer this year.
While market prices of corn have improved somewhat, farmers need a good crop to go along with that, Sutton said. It remains to be seen how good this year’s crop is going to be because it has been hit hard by the lack of rain.
The weather also has negatively affected the other main field crops in Pitt County: sweet potatoes, soybeans, tobacco, peanuts and cotton, Burlingham said. These effects range from severe damage to a delay in growth.
All crops are behind schedule in terms of growth, he said.
“Sweet potatoes are also hurt very badly because a lot of them were recently transplanted,” Burlingham said, “and the hot, dry weather — particularly with the hot wind we had — really dried up and desiccated and damaged a lot of the leaves, so they are very far behind.”
Burlingham said that soybeans are also in fairly bad shape, mainly because farmers got a late start in getting them planted.
Farmers normally plant soybeans in early to mid-May, but it got so dry back then that they stopped planting them, he said. Planting resumed in early June when there was some rain. Then when the soybean plants came up and got a few leaves on them, it got hot and dry again.
“(The soybeans) have been kind of just sitting in the field, trying to hang on, not really growing,” Burlingham said. “(They) are behind, but possibly could catch up with the rain we’re getting now,” he said, referring to rainfall this week.
“The tobacco crop is spotty,” Burlingham said. “There’s some places where it’s better than others. There’s been some disease pressure. ... The leaves are smaller, they’re not as thick and there’s not as much weight to the leaves. That could change if we get some rain. Those leaves can fill out some yet. But in general, the crop is smaller and in lighter condition than it would normally be on an average year.”
Peanuts and cotton seem to be faring the best, although they too are behind schedule in their growth, he said.
Peanut growth is OK but there is space between the rows, Burlingham said. Usually by this time of year the rows would be closed over but this year the plants are smaller.
If the area gets some decent rain, the plants can fill out, he said. However, if the weather continues to be dry, it will to harm the peanut crop.
Burlingham said that the cotton likes hot, dry weather. However, even the cotton plants are a bit shorter this year than they would be on average.
Farmers of field crops depend on rainfall for water, Burlingham said.
While farmers of specialty crops, such as strawberries, often employ irrigation systems, farmers of field crops do not, he said. Installing expensive irrigation systems that might be used only twice a year is not cost-effective for the farmers.
On average there is enough rain in Pitt County to meet the farmers’ needs, he said, although this year has been an exception.
Farmers welcomed rain that occurred this week. However, that rain has been spotty and the county could use even more, Burlingham said.
Some of the eastern parts of the county got a good amount of rainfall, but parts of the western and central parts of the county only received about a half-inch. It hasn’t been enough to help turn things around, he said.
“We really need a good two inches of rain right now,” Burlingham said. “We really need some additional good, heavy rain to help get that soil moisture level built back up.”
The reduced yield on crops will have a negative economic effect on farmers, Burlingham said.
Almost all of the 391 Pitt County farms are family-owned operations from which people make a living, he said.
It’s kind of a double whammy — low yields on top of very low market prices, Burlingham said.
“When you do this work you subject yourself to the ups and downs of crop prices as well as your weather, but as a farmer you hate to see them hit all at the same time and for the last couple of years it’s been pretty imperative that you have a good crop,” Sutton said.
Also contributing to the financial strain, Burlingham said, is that all the input costs, such as fuel and fertilizer prices have gone up for the last several years.
Last year was tough, with a hurricane coming in late in the season, he said. People were hoping for a better year this year but that has not been the case.
Right now, it is a much worse year, he said.
“A couple of bad years in a row and it’s going to be very tight in the farming community,” Burlingham said.
Karen Eckert can be reached at 252-329-9565 or at email@example.com.