Farmers across Virginia deal with drought, heat

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ROCKBRIDGE COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ/WWBT) — “Herk” Williams' family has been on the farm since the 1790s, seven generations, and he takes a philosophical approach to the weather.

WDBJ7 photo

“Anytime you’re dealing with weather, there’s always elements that create havoc for animals and humans alike," he said. "So you’ve got to learn to cope with what Mother Nature lays on you.”

But that doesn’t make it any easier.

“When times are good," he said, "You try to make extra feed, and you try to compensate because you know somewhere along the line, there’s going to be bad times.”

“Boy, you’re hearing a lot of disgruntled people right now," said Mack Smith, President of the local Farm Bureau. "With these cattle prices going down, feeding and buying feed, hay prices are probably going to double. They’re just going up.”

Smith was in his cornfield Wednesday, cutting a month early.

“The soybeans in the last two weeks literally died," he said of another crop." And again, you normally wouldn’t see that until frost hit it, and they just died.”

The U.S. Drought Monitor map released Thursday shows large swaths of southern West Virginia in a severe drought and much of Virginia in a moderate drought. The National Weather Service marked last month as one of warmest and driest Septembers on record in multiple Virginia and West Virginia cities.

In many places, it’s so dry farmers like Williams have to think of more than yield.

“We have a truck, a water tanker truck here in the field with us," he explained. "In case something catches fire, we can put it out.”

But with the right management, and some diversity, they say they’ll make it through as their forefathers did before them.

“It’s just a balancing act," Williams said. "And you’ve got to, you know, sometimes you’ve got to just sit down and really grind out the marbles in the brain and make it all work out.”

Jeff Sears, owner of Hanover Vegetable Farm, said his crops aren’t necessarily the size they typically see on an annual basis.

However, he said he’d rather deal with the drier weather than the tremendous amount of rain the area had this time last year.

"I don't want to complain much,” Sears said. “It could always be better, but after last year I'd much rather take this."

That's mainly because Sears lost all of his pumpkins due to the rainy weather in 2018. He doesn't have that problem this year.

The weather has also taken a toll on another fall crop – corn.

“It normally would get 8-foot tall because you want it to grow for the maze,” Sears said.

This year’s corn stalks are roughly 3 feet shorter than what they’re supposed to be. They’re still tall enough to work for a maze, but Sears has a different problem. There isn’t any corn on them.

“We’ll pull all the corn and feed it to the cattle and stuff this winter, but as you can see, it’s not much for them this winter,” Sears said.

The same thing goes for the hay they cut, and Sears said they’re already dipping into their winter feed supply.

“Which means we will run out and the hay, if you can find it, the price is going to be through the roof,” he said. “The other problem is if you can’t feed [the cattle] you take them to the market, so the price is going to be low because a lot of people will be doing it - supply and demand.”

Even if it were to rain, Sears said they wouldn’t be able to gather enough hay to compensate for what is already being used.

Sears said it’s through community support that farmers are able to make it through the side effects Mother Nature brings.

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