Ray Gora / Lincoln Times-News
In spite of the unusually wet season, Lineberger Berry Hill Farms has been productive overall, with very few problems due to the extensive rainfall. Here, Harold Lineberger holds some of the large, ripe Chickasaw blackberries his farm has been growing.
Lincoln County has reached above average rainfall numbers this summer, affecting local farms and crops in a serious way.
While the region has witnessed periodic breaks in wet weather in the last few days, frequent torrential downpours across consecutive days have flooded portions of the state, according to Warning Coordination Meteorologist Tony Sturey with the National Weather Service Office in Greer, S.C.
Sturey said the 4-8 inches of rain that has fallen across the Lincoln County since July 1 is at least 3 inches above average rainfall statistics for this time of year.
While Lincoln County Cooperative Extension Director Kevin Starr said recent weather patterns have had little effect on local farmers markets, there is no doubt it has disrupted crop growers and increased the spread of crop disease.
“The customer may not see it (impact) that much,” he said, “but the rain has made all farming activities more difficult.”
Starr said heavy rain has greatly interfered with fruit harvesting and wheat control.
“People haven’t been able to get out and do things,” he said. “It has been a real challenge for growers.”
Leonard Keever, with Keever Farms in Lincolnton, is concerned about his wheat.
While workers were able to gather most of the crop before flood waters drenched it, a portion of the wheat remains in the fields, long after harvesting time.
If the crop stays in wet conditions too long, it will begin to sprout and grow again, Keever said.
According to Lincoln County Soil and Water Conservation District Director Rick McSwain, wheat that hasn’t been harvested has an increased potential to mix with weeds, reducing the crop’s market value.
“The more trash farmers have in their seed, the less money they’ll get for it,” he said.
On the other hand, McSwain pointed out that lingering crops limit erosion.
Keever maintains mixed emotions about the rain since record-breaking precipitation has killed his tomato crop yet produced one of the best corn crops he’s seen in years.
“It’s beautiful,” he said.
The rain has additionally produced significant growth in his staple crop — soybeans.
Alan Davis, of Davis and Son Orchard in Lawndale, is concerned his crops are more susceptible to disease since continued rain showers have washed off the plants’ pesticides. He is particularly keeping an eye out for Bitter Rot and Glomerella Leaf Spot, he said.
According to the N.C. Cooperative Extension website, the crop diseases are similar, creating rotten spots on crops and leaves.
Bitter rot is a common problem for apples commercially produced in the Southeast, the site said.
Davis, who maintains two roadside markets with his business, one each on N.C. 18 and N.C. 150, said apples are his largest crop and have succumbed to disease in past years. He also grows peaches, strawberries and blackberries.
Despite the potential for rotten fruit, Davis has remained calm throughout the recent rainy season and continues farming without much added stress, simply tossing out the bad crops when he sees them.
“We’ve been able to grade out the bad ones and keep the good ones,” he said.
Lineberger Berry Hill Farm in Iron Station, one of two area farms maintained by Harold and Patsy Lineberger, has witnessed little disease-ridden fruit this season.
“We are doing well…and haven’t let anything rot in the field,” Harold said.
Mainly, wet weather has kept him and work crews out of the fields since their trucks have continued to get stuck in thick mud.
He has also had to spray pesticides on his current crop, blackberries, more frequently to keep fungus and bacteria at bay, particularly powdery mildew, which he said affects the vines on his pumpkin plants.
Lineberger planted several pumpkin seeds earlier this summer and hopes continued rain doesn’t destroy what has already started to grow.
Flooded conditions have also wreaked havoc on area cattle farms.
Glen Creek Farm owner Gerald Frye said the rains have made a “big mess” on his Lawndale property.
“When you have a lot of animals that have relatively small feet for their size…they churn up the grass and make mud holes,” he said. “Sloppy areas like that are unsightly.”
Creeks are also starting to overflow at his farm and hay-making is at a current standstill after floods washed away seven acres of it.
Frye said typically the hay harvest would be completed by this time but unseasonably cooler spring temperatures resulted in a late start.
While a lack of hay will ultimately affect the farm’s bottom line, he is confident the property has enough forage left to produce a substantial amount of the product this year.
Frye will start making hay again as soon as the saturated ground dries since hay that retains too much moisture will mold in the barn, he said.
Despite flooded conditions at the western Lincoln County farm, a silver lining remains.
Frye said the rain has kept his cattle cool and doesn’t disturb their grazing habits.
“When it’s really beating down, they stand there bowed up and take it,” he said. “They don’t mind it a bit.”
He also celebrated the rain for allowing his cattle to have enough to eat, quite the opposite of last year’s dryer season.
Sturey predicted more wet weather in the region’s future. Although an upcoming front and weather pattern doesn’t appear to be bringing long-term precipitation, as in recent weeks, his forecast does show future rain.
“I don’t see any end in sight,” Sturey said.