- The Washington Times - Friday, August 10, 2007

RICHMOND (AP) — Blistering temperatures and a lack of rainfall are taking a toll on Virginia crops.

Nearly two-thirds of the state’s corn, soybeans and pastures are in poor or very poor condition, according to the most recent crop report by the Virginia Agricultural Statistics Service.

It’s so bad in Accomack County that some cornfields might not even be harvested, said county extension agent Jim Belote.

“The extreme temperatures are just devastating,” Mr. Belote said. “It’s just like cooking the corn.”

Accomack County is the state’s leading corn producer. Mr. Belote estimated that Accomack farmers planted 28,000 acres of corn this year. Harvest could begin as early as the end of August, he said.

“It will be early, and it won’t take very long to do it,” he said.

Mr. Belote said Accomack could soon join several other Virginia counties that have sought a federal drought disaster declaration, which would make farmers in those localities eligible for low-interest government loans.

Seven counties received primary drought disaster designations yesterday, according to Elaine Lidholm, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Those were Culpeper, Lee, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Washington and Wise counties.

The “primary” designation will make farmers in those counties eligible for any special relief approved by Congress, in addition to low-interest loans.

Adjacent localities receiving “contiguous” disaster designations were the counties of Bland, Buchanan, Dickenson, Fauquier, Grayson, Madison, Orange, Rappahannock, Spotsylvania, Stafford, Tazewell and Wythe, and the cities of Bristol and Norton.

Primary disaster applications were pending for Bedford, Bland, Brunswick, Caroline, King George, Orange and Lancaster counties.

Keith Lynch, hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Wakefield, Va., said most of the state is experiencing a moderate drought. The only reason it’s not worse is that Virginia began the year with a surplus of moisture because of substantial precipitation last winter and fall.

“Groundwater storage sustained us through most of June and July, but now it’s starting to decline a little,” Mr. Lynch said.

Year-to-date rainfall amounts are running below normal in most localities. Richmond, for example, has recorded 22.82 inches of precipitation — well below the average of 27.12 inches for this time of year, Mr. Lynch said.

Also contributing to the drought are high temperatures, which accelerate the evaporation of soil moisture, Mr. Lynch said. The temperature in Richmond soared to a record 104 degrees Wednesday.

Some relief is in sight, however. Mr. Lynch said cooler temperatures are expected for the weekend, and the long-range forecast calls for normal rainfall the rest of the month.

That won’t be enough to salvage the corn crop in Accomack, Mr. Belote said. However, he said it could do some good for soybeans and get the ground in shape for planting fall crops.

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