VA farmers feeling effects of wettest May on record

Strawberry field at Mt. Olympus Farm (Source: NBC12)
Strawberry field at Mt. Olympus Farm (Source: NBC12)
Updated: Jun. 5, 2018 at 6:16 PM EDT
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RUTHER GLEN, VA (WWBT) - Heavy rains last month are having an impact on farms all across central Virginia potentially hindering future crops.

Sunday Gallmeyer Farms in Henrico's east end announced its strawberry fields would be closed this season because of a major crop loss due to the rain.

"As farmers we make our plans and we do the work to prepare for a successful crop but this season reminds us that there are powers greater than us," a Facebook post said.

"It's slowed things down," said Mary West, co-owner of Mt. Olympus Farm in Ruther Glen. "We haven't been able to get into the fields as we would like to. It's affected the harvest of certain crops; strawberries are one of our big ones."

According to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services the amount of rain seen in May affects various farms differently depending on location and elevation.

"Most of our fields are on higher ground, they're more on hills," West said. "We actually had water, little creeks and rivers, mini rivers running down into the ponds."

Mt. Olympus Farm benefits from being on higher ground as opposed to some other farms in flat-lying areas, according to West.

"You can't really do too much about it," she said. "So you just keep going and keep your fingers crossed. Farming is a bit like being a gambler; you just have to roll the dice and take what you get."

Gallmeyer Farms in Henrico's east end closed its strawberry fields over the weekend, citing a "devastating crop loss."

While the strawberry fields at Mt. Olympus Farm are still open, West said they were only able to salvage about 60-70 percent of their crop, and they can tell the difference.

"These are kind of examples of what you don't want and that's because of heat and water combined - they sort of become mushy," she said.

Some farmers have gone as far to say they'd rather have a drought than heavy rains.

"You can always put the water on, but you can't take the water off," West said.

West said most of her strawberries are lasting a different amount of time than they normally would because of the excessive rain.

"I noticed generally where you would get four or five days in refrigeration, it's cutting it down to more like two or three days where you want to do something with them," she said.

Another issue the Department of Agriculture said farmers may be dealing with is the saturated ground, and its effects for future harvests.

"It's slowed us down," West said. "Obviously you can't get out in the field when it's too wet. Our crew kind of keeps going. You can't get the equipment out there but sometimes you just have to do it the old school way and do it by hand."

"Farm equipment is heavy, often with big tires, and it can tear up wet fields," said Elaine Lidholm, a spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture. "It can take days for field to dry out enough to support the equipment."

But West said May's record breaking 10.35 inches of rain recorded in the Richmond area was good for some crops.

"It's been fantastic for blueberries," she said. "They're loving it. They love the cool. They love the wet."

West can also recall another time when her farm was impacted by rainy weather.

"2016 is one that comes to mind," she said. "I think it rained 21 out of the 31 days. It was crazy."

Lidholm added that standing water can drown plants, especially young ones, which could be what farmers are seeing across the area.

"If farmers have to replant, that shortens the growing season, which reduces yields (the amount grown per plant)," she said. "Rain on cotton can destroy its quality, reducing its value as a crop."

The Department of Agriculture added that animal agriculture can be affected by excessive rain as well.

"It can destroy hay or greatly reduce its yield, or extremely wet fields can keep animals from grazing efficiently," Lidholm said. "Parasites thrive in the wet weather, causing problems from disease to loss of quality of wool. In horses and cattle, times of excessively wet conditions and flooding can cause foot rot."

May's rain record is now the largest in history ahead of 2016 which had a record of 9.79 inches.

May 2018 also the second warmest May on record. The average temperature was 73.4 degrees.

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