‘Timely rainfall’ contributes to improved crop yields

Published 2:34 pm Saturday, January 29, 2022

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service released its annual crop production report for Virginia, revealing the state’s farmers reaped bountiful yields despite adverse growing conditions.

The Jan. 12 report indicated in 2021 Virginia corn, cotton, flue-cured tobacco, peanut and soybean production all increased by at least 15% from 2020.

Soybean production was estimated at 27.1 million bushels, up 15% from 2020. The acreage harvested was estimated at 590,000, up 5.3% from the year before, and the estimated yield of 46 bushels per acre is a state record.

Corn production also improved despite harvested acreage being down by 13.5% compared to 2020. Virginia farmers increased production by 16% to 59.2 million bushels, and the yield of 160 bushels per acre was a 38-bushel improvement.

The positive year-end report comes after recent NASS statistics showed most Virginia farmers operated in drought or severe-drought conditions throughout fall and winter in 2021.

“All in all, the majority of Virginia counties got needed and timely rainfall in June, July and August, and that really helped corn and soybean production,” said Robert Harper, grain division manager for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

“I think (the increased production) came down to the timeliness of getting the crops planted in April and May, and the timeliness of the rain coming. Our members know how to set themselves up for success, so when the rain comes, it’s off to the races.”

While small grains were produced in record numbers, row crops also excelled in 2021.

Virginia cotton soared to 190,000 bales — a 50% increase — and yields were estimated at 1,232 pounds per acre, up 460 pounds from 2020. Peanut production improved by 26% to 141 million pounds in 2021, and the estimated yield per acre increased to 4,700 pounds from 4,150 the previous year.

Shelley Barlow, who planted cotton and peanuts in 2021 at Cotton Plains Farm in Suffolk, also credited timely rain for generating what she called an “above-average” crop year.

“We got rain when we needed it, which was unusual,” Barlow said. “We had really even moisture throughout the whole growing season, and then we had a dry harvest season, which was great for getting the crops in.”

Flue-cured tobacco production also increased to 33.4 million pounds in 2021, up 43% from 2020. The yield per acre was estimated at 2,300 pounds, up 300 pounds.

Lunenburg County tobacco farmer Richard Hite noted the large uptick in tobacco production was influenced by Chinese trade, but the high quality of the crop was due to favorable weather.

“A lot of farmers were worried if we would have a crop at all,” Hite said, noting a hot, dry May complicated the early stages of tobacco growth in Lunenburg and surrounding counties.

“But once June came around it started raining, and it rained continuously on and off,” he added. “That really allowed the roots to take up the fertilizer and fill the body of the plants out to produce a high-quality tobacco crop.”