Soggy June puts damper on local crops

July 1, 2014 10:16:51 AM



The unrelenting rainfall that has drenched the Golden Triangle throughout June has created challenges and delays for local farmers.  


June rainfall was well above the average for Lowndes, Oktibbeha, Clay and Noxubee counties this year.  


According to Marty Pope of the National Weather Service in Jackson, the region has received some of the highest June rainfalls since recording precipitation became widespread. The west and southwest areas of Lowndes County and eastern Oktibbeha County have experienced particularly soggy years thus far, said Pope. 


Pope said that the town of Crawford has measured 10.07 inches of rain this June. That is more than double the monthly average of 4.34 inches and puts the town total for 2014 at 43.6 inches, 14.5 inches above average for the first six months of the year. It is the fifth dampest June since records began to be taken in 1940.  


Starkville has kept records of precipitation since 1891, Pope said. This June's 8.14 inches of rain ranks 10th in the 123-year span.  


The sun beat down on produce fields at the Mayhew Tomato Co. Monday afternoon, in nature's attempt to absorb the moisture from the ground. The sun has some work to do in Mayhew -- M.C. Ellis, the farm owner, has recorded 10.98 inches of rain this month on an electronic gauge. 


Rain has brought a large problem for farmers in the area--grass. 


Ellis has battled the grass by purchasing more chemicals to fight disease and investing more in man-hours to keep the grass at bay, which has raised the expenses leading into this year's harvest. Finding workers to help keep the grass at bay is not an easy task for the Mayhew Tomato Farm. Ellis says that the heat, combined with the heavy manual labor, makes it hard to keep workers around for a long time. 


The rain has only delayed most of Ellis' crops, but it has taken a particularly heavy toll on his onion, which are smaller and of poorer quality that normal. 


Dr. Brian Williams, of the Mississippi State University Department of Agricultural Economics, said that the soggy June may have got planting off to a slow start, but that it is not necessarily a bad thing.  


"Really, it was more of a temporary shock to the market," Williams said.  


Williams said that the large amount of rain ensures moisture in the ground for a long time, which is an encouraging sign for the markets that fear drought above all else. A USDA report said that wet conditions throughout the country may have switched acreage priority from corn to soybeans for many farmers. However, there are crops projected to improve production this year. 


"The cotton crop looks to be in better shape here in Mississippi and nationally," Williams said.  


Locally, the soggy conditions of this June, combined with a late frost in April, have caused delays in the region for several seasonal favorites, such as tomatoes and watermelons. Johnny Gilmer of Cherokee Watermelons, the largest local provider of watermelons, said that the watermelons will be ready to pick next week, much to his dismay. Gilmer has always taken particular pride in having a good supply of watermelons for the Fourth of July. 


Gilmer said the rain and cold has reduced the size of the Gilmer watermelon crop 20 percent.  


"It's coming, just late," Gilmer said.