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Heat taking toll on grass crops

Unless we get some significant rainfall in the next few weeks, Pulaski County crops could start to suffer, according to Virginia Cooperative Extension.
Extension Agents Matthew Miller of Smyth County and John Vest of Floyd County say recent record heat, coupled with the lack of any significant rainfall, is starting to take a toll on crops in many parts of Virginia, including Southwest Virginia.
Vest, an agriculture and natural resources agent, said Pulaski County’s corn crop is okay for now, but it will be “on the cusp of” suffering damage from the heat and dry temperatures “in a couple of weeks, if we don’t get some more rain.”
He noted that Pulaski County has received more rain than some areas of the state farther north, so the corn is “doing fine right now it seems. There are no signs of moisture stress as of yet, but in the next two to three weeks we’ll probably see some effects if we don’t start seeing some rain.”
In Caroline County, northeast of Richmond, Extension Agent McGann Saphir reports the corn crop has already suffered “irrevocable damage,” with “severe stunting and premature ‘tasseling’ … the norm.”
Although Pulaski County experienced significant moisture over the past year, and the water table isn’t suffering, Vest said recent 90-degree days have contributed to the drying process, leaving the top soil too dry.
“We need a good, steady rain of one to three days to re-establish the normal top soil water supply,” he noted.
Locally, it’s the grass crop that is suffering the most.
Miller, a farm business management agent, said Pulaski County’s grass crop is suffering worse than Smyth and Wythe counties based on a visual assessment. As a result, farmers may only get one cutting of hay this year.
“At this time of the year, you get decreased grass production anyway,” he said. Add the extra dry conditions and heat and growth “slows down considerably.”
Miller said farmers “had a hard time getting the grass cut to start with because you need three good dry days to put it down.” With weather forecasts calling for a 40 to 60 percent chance of thunderstorms, farmers tended to delay cutting for fear the grass would get wet.
“When you do that (delay cutting), the quality goes down, then you run the threat of not getting a good re-growth,” Miller said.

According to Virginia Farm Bureau, only about 25 percent of farmland across the state reported adequate topsoil moisture on June 27, compared to 75 percent on June 6.

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