Lee farmers left stymied, stuck by persistent rainfall

Jul. 01, 2013 @ 06:11 PM

In fields across Lee County, tobacco plants are stunted and standing water lines the rows of wheat waiting to be harvested. June was the third wettest on record for the Lee County area, and local farmers are feeling its effect.

Gross Farms owner John Gross said he’ll be lucky to harvest half the tobacco crop he got last year and, in some places, the crops are a total loss.

“It’s bad all over North Carolina,” he said. “It’s really affecting the produce, and it’s more expensive to have a bad crop.”

With increased rainfall, farmers have to use more fertilizers on the crops without the payout, he said.

Tractors and machinery have gotten stuck in the fields, Gross said, tearing up the rows and preventing farmers from planting their next round of crops.

Blueberry Hill U-Pick owner Anthony Dyson said the rain has hurt his farm in two ways.

“Because of the rain, we don’t have the crowd coming out to pick the berries,” he said. “And too much rain will split the berries and over ripen them. That is what we are up against.”

The farm isn’t in grave danger, he said, but the rain needs to let up in the coming week.

“We’ve got a variety of the berries coming in,” Dyson said. “We trust in the good Lord to get us through.”

Lee County Cooperative Extension Director Susan Condlin said she’s see an influx of farmers frustrated by the frequent downpours.

“They are upset they can’t get in the field,” Condlin said.

Many of the farmers are not able to harvest their wheat crop and plant their soybeans, she said. Usually the soybeans are planted before the July 4 holiday, and they can’t be planted later than July 10 this year, Condlin said.

“They need to get in those fields, and it’s tough,” she said. “Some of the machinery and the workers have gotten stuck in the field. The workers are coming out of the field muddy. It’s darned if you do, darned if you don’t.”

This year’s crop of wheat was one of the best Tommy Dalrymple has seen, but said he’s been unable to harvest his 250 acres because of the wet fields.

“The wheat has to be dry,” he said. “When we have been going out (to harvest the crop), we’ve gotten stuck in the mud. It’s impossible to get it out and get it harvested.”

It’s too early in the season to know how this setback will impact the farm financially, Darlymple said, but all the farmers in the area will feel the impact.

“They say a ‘Dry June will scare you, but a wet June will ruin you,’” he said. “We have got work to do in the field, and there’s just no way we can get in there now. … It’s too soon to tell, but it will hurt all of us in the county.”