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Rainy June Takes a Toll on Local Crops

An excessively wet and rainy June has damaged some crops in Eastern North Carolina. Lee Jenkins has more on the extent of the damage and what effect it may have on the consumer.

Despite what the Luke Bryan song says, rain isn’t always a good thing, especially when there is a lot of it. Typically, counties in Eastern North Carolina receive around four inches of rain during the month of June, but this year, most counties have received eight inches or more. National Weather Service meteorologist John Elardo says the coastal plain experienced the heaviest downpours.

“Williamston, in Martin County, reported 13.47 inches of rain. In a normal month, that would’ve been 4.46. In Bayboro, a little further to the east in Pamlico County, they reported over 11 inches, 11.4 inches, and their normal June rainfall was 4.76.”

In Beaufort County, Chocowinity recorded 10.2 inches for the month. Some areas around New Bern also got a lot of rain. At the airport, they received 8.2. Normally, they would get 4.8. James City recorded 10.41. These heavy rains have helped in replenishing groundwater lost to droughts from previous years, but there are drawbacks.

“It might have some negative effects on agriculture. The rivers are now running above normal, and so that means we’re more vulnerable to flooding, especially if we were to get a tropical system that had really, really heavy rain. If we continue to have abnormal rainfall prior to a tropical system and you throw a tropical system on top of that, we could have some really significant flooding.”

With another two inches of rain projected for the end of this week and tropical storm Chantal forming in the Caribbean, the region very well could take an agricultural hit. Farmers are already reporting crop losses and delaying harvests, according to Kelly Putnam of Putnam Farms in Kinston.

“The fields are extremely wet, so we are behind on planting and we have had some flooding in the fields which certainly causes you to lose crops, whatever’s planted in particular areas that are heavy.”

Putnam grows squash, zucchini, corn, peppers, and more on about 40 acres. Interestingly enough, she expects a better harvest than last year’s, where Putnam Farms experienced even heavier rainfall.

“We had a tremendous amount of rain in a short period of time, and this year, even though we’ve had a lot of rain last week and, certainly, it affects us, still overall at this point in time, we’re looking at a better season than we did last year.”

Still, she’s already lost an estimated 30% of her crops, with squash and zucchini taking the most damage. According to of Jones County’s Cooperative Extension Agent, Jacob Morgan, it’s wheat that’s turning into Nature’s punching bag.

“Most of the wheat  that’s in the field has lost value as far as test weight, which is one thing they get paid for. Some of the wheat hasn’t been picked yet, which is really the part we’re worried about. And just a little bit of rain causes the wheat to increase in moisture content and at that point, there’s a dockage at the mill where they’ll sell the wheat. They have to dry it before they can store it.”

To make matters worse, the constant rain has caused the seeds in the plant to germinate and sprout, further reducing the value. Soybeans are also in trouble, as delays in planting are stretching out into the end of the planting season.

“Soil moisture is too high to get into the fields or the wheat hasn’t been picked yet so they can’t plant. That’s probably going to be the biggest loss, those fields that just don’t get planted because we’re near the end of the recommended planting period. In fact, July 10th is about the latest N.C. State and Cooperative Extension recommend planting soybeans and still feeling like we have a pretty good chance to make some yield.”

Tobacco isn’t struggling yet, but if planted on lower ground it will likely drown. It seems only corn has truly benefited from the rain, but with its growing season still in full swing and more rain on the horizon, it remains to be seen if the crop will stay strong until harvest.

But how much rain does it take to damage crops? It depends, though most crops suffer under prolonged rain. The strength of the drainage system and the method used to plant crops also plays a role, as does the quality of the soil.

“Sandy land or really well-drained soils, the rain that does fall on those fields will typically soak into the ground a lot faster so they’ve gotten the water that they need and the excess water has been able to drain through the soil profile. They’re doing a lot better than some of the soils that hold water that typically are better soils because we usually have hot, dry periods.”

Flooding isn’t the only problem caused by excessive rain, though. Fungal growth can also hurt a harvest, explains Mel Parker of the 90 acre Parker Farms in New Bern.

“It causes a lot of disease pressure.  Anytime you have a lot of heat and high humidity like this, you’re going to have problems with fungus. I’ve got peaches and I’ve had a lot of problems with rot on those at this point.”

While neither Parker nor Putnam Farms plan on raising the price of their crops, Putnam says other farmers in the region may have to.

We have noted that a lot of other farms that are selling at markets did go up on their prices last weekend. Several other folks that are at markets, they’re buying their crops from other farms and, of course, with the shortage we’re seeing with squash, zucchini, melons, things like that, they have no choice but to raise the price up. So, if you’re buying wholesale, it’s going to be more which is going to turn around and affect the customer.”

And the delayed harvests will just exacerbate the issue.

“You’re losing what’s already out there and not able to plant more, so the effect will be seen even more so in two more weeks.”

According to Agricultural Extension agent Jacob Morgan, a poor harvest won’t drastically change the prices in Jones County.

“We don’t really control the price of wheat, or corn, or soybeans. Most of that’s out there in the Midwest and other parts of the world that are a lot bigger producers as far as volume. So, if we had a complete loss and we didn’t produce any wheat, that’s really not going to affect, most likely, the wheat prices.”

The rains also pose a threat to gardens in the form of disease. Wet conditions will allow diseases to flourish and could harm gardens if not kept in check. Plants also need to be harvested on time. They’ll ripen quickly in the well-watered soil and will become overripe if not attended to.

Jared Brumbaugh is the Assistant General Manager for Public Radio East. An Eastern North Carolina native, Jared began his professional public radio career at Public Radio East while he was a student at Craven Community College earning his degree in Electronics Engineering Technology. During his 15+ years at Public Radio East, he has served as an award-winning journalist, producer, and on-air host. When not at the station, Jared enjoys hiking, traveling, and honing his culinary skills.
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