2013 verdict for Caldwell County farmers: 'drowned out'

Dec. 24, 2013 @ 08:24 AM

Looking back on the growing season for farmers in Caldwell County, one thing sticks out: rain.

“Rain is definitely the big thing. It basically made planting on time a challenge, and some crops were drowned out,” said Seth Nagy, director of the Caldwell County Cooperative Extension Service.

As of Dec. 19, Lenoir had received 61.15 inches of rain this year, including 14.55 inches just in July, according to the North Carolina State Climate Office. The normal for Lenoir is 49.2 inches a year, and July’s average is 4.4.

High rainfall from around February to August soaked farms throughout the growing season before giving way to a dry fall, he said.

Extra rain can cause many different problems, Nagy said, including starving plants’ roots of oxygen, leeching the nutrients from the soil, making the soil tough to till, potatoes rotting in the ground and corn sprouting while it’s still on the stalk.

Also, wet weather fosters plant diseases, usually fungus.

Standing water in fields can drown seeds, and with the consistent rains throughout the season, as farmers tried to replant those areas, the seeds just drowned again, Nagy said.

Mike Willis, who farms in the Lower Creek and Kings Creek areas, raising beef cattle, soybeans, corn and wheat, said the problems he dealt with this year can be described as "all of the above."

“We lost probably one-third of a crop -- pretty much across the board,” he said.

Willis had to replant because initial seeds rotted, and wheat harvests were delayed by about a month, leading to seeds and straw rotting in the field. The rain and wet soil conditions made his operations difficult logistically.

“If we break even, I’ll be tickled to death, as far as input costs,” Willis said.

If extensive rains damage hay crops, the drop in production can bleed over to a shortage in feed for cows and other livestock that depend on hay.

If it gets too much rain, Nagy said, the nutritional quality of the hay drops and it gets harder to bale. And if hay gets baled with moisture still inside, the bale could even spontaneously combust.

“I think most of the guys are going to make it this year,” Nagy said, in reference to hay producers. “Larger operations generally make their own hay, even make enough plus some to sell.”

Nagy has heard from three hay producers, he said, one who expects production to be a little short, one who expects to sell more, thanks to leftovers from last year’s crop, and another who said this year is shaping up to be tight.