The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

July 18, 2013

Too much rain wreaks havoc on tobacco, cotton; delays soybean plantings


TARBORO — Above average rainfall over the past month is wreaking havoc on the tobacco and cotton crop in Edgecombe County and has delayed the planting of soybeans.

“The crop most affected right now has been tobacco,” said Art Bradley, director of the Edgecombe County office of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension. He said too much rain reduces the yield of the crop and allows diseases to take hold of the plant. One such disease is “target spot,” a fungus that causes round lesions to form on the leaf.

“High humidity really favors that disease,” Bradley said. “It’s caused more leaf deterioration than we’re used to seeing.”

Wayne Harrell, who farms 500 acres of tobacco in the Conetoe area, said too much rain leeches the nutrients from the soil in which the tobacco is planted and turns the tobacco yellow.

“So far, this year has been challenging, the last few weeks,” he said. “I figure we’ve lost about 20, 25 percent of the crop already.”

A mixture of sunny and rainy days will help the remainder of Harrell’s crop flourish.

“We still need rain. We just don’t need quite so much at one time,” he said.

Will Anderson agreed. Anderson farms about 350 acres of tobacco just off Howard Avenue Extension on the outskirts of Tarboro

“The worst thing it can do now is quit raining,” he said. “I hope we’ll get a little bit of rain.”

Hot, sunny skies are in the forecast for most of the rest of the week, with a chance of rain/storms in the forecast today, Thursday and Sunday.

At the research station on Nobles Mill Pond Road in Edgecombe County, 9.96 inches of rainfall was recorded during the month of June. Bradley said localized areas of the county have had even more rainfall. So far this month, 4.84 inches of rainfall has been recorded.

“Roughly the average rainfall in July is 4 or 4 1/2 inches,” Bradley said.

“That’s the life of a farmer,” Anderson said. “You’re at the mercy of the Lord and what he gives you, that’s what you have to take.”

He said he feels fortunate compared to his neighboring farmers, some of whom have lost most of their crop.

“For the most part, I got a good crop, if I can save it before it burns up,” Anderson said. “Our yields are going to be down, because most of the lugs (which is the bottom stalk) are burnt or gone.” He said too much rain also causes the leaves to “flop” and hang down.

“It just can’t stand all that water.”

Anderson has been working frantically to ditch the water out of the field with shovels. He said the rain has also put him behind schedule on spraying his tobacco for “suckers,” something that should be done every five days.

The water is having a negative effect on Anderson’s soybeans, as well.

“We’ve got to replant it and it’s so late now that you don’t even know if you’re going to have a crop if you put it out there,” Anderson said. “July 4th is kind of the cutoff.”

Even though the planting of soybeans is late this year, Bradley holds out some hope for the soybean crop, the largest crop in Edgecombe County this season.

“The early soybeans look fairly good,” he said. “They’ve got some time to catch up.”

The cotton crop, though,  might be another story.

“The cotton crop has started very late and has not grown very well,” Bradley said. “It probably doesn’t have a very good root system developed.”

Anderson said his cotton crop is probably “a good three weeks behind what it ought to be.”

One crop that seems to be faring well is corn.

“Corn thrives in wet weather. It’s been great for the corn,” said Aaron Carpenter, an Edgecombe County farmer. While the corn is doing well, the crop has been less accessible because of the rain.

“I picked some squash this morning and I was up to about 2 inches of mud in my boots,” Carpenter said, on Saturday. “It’s there, but you can’t get to it.”