Growing drought impacts crops across North Carolina

IREDELL COUNTY, N.C. — Despite some rain Thursday, a drought is creeping across the state, and corn growers in the Piedmont worry much of their crops won’t make it to harvest.

Andy Gray, who operates Grayhouse Farms with his family in northern Iredell County, said his fields already faced one weather-related setback in the spring.

“Early May, it rained so much that the corn seed rotted in the ground,” he said. “I had to replant the whole field and then, drought.”

That was back when the area was having one of its wettest Mays on record, then suddenly Gray said his fields went three weeks without any rain at all. Then came this week’s heat wave and things started to dry out even faster.

“It’s been a tough go definitely for the corn crop and the soybean crop,” he said.

This time of year he’d expect the corn to be about eight or nine feet tall. His tallest crops are about half that size.

“It’s gonna be a short crop and there’s not going to be nearly the grain in the silage,” he said.

The situation is even worse out east. Most farmers planted earlier in the year and the drought came on faster so the plants were reaching the pollination stage as the heat peaked. During pollination, the corn produces most of its kernels. If it’s too heat-stressed, it stunts the process and by harvest, and there won’t be much corn on those cobs.

Gray expects a similar situation in his fields unless they can catch up on rain. With most of his corn used as silage to feed his dairy cows, he said he’ll still be able to salvage some of his crops, even if the kernels don’t form as they should. But he’ll harvest far less and have to supplement the supply from his reserves or by purchasing more feed.

“It’ll be half a crop probably,” he said. “Typically, it’ll be 18-19 tons per acre. I’m expecting eight.”

Thursday’s rain did offer some hope. When the crops are heat-stressed, the corn leaves tighten up to protect the plant, but as temperatures cooled and rain poured down Thursday morning, they opened, making his fields look far more green.

“This will help a little bit but we need much, much more,” he said.

Michelle Alfini

Michelle Alfini, wsoctv.com

Michelle is a climate reporter for Channel 9.

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