By Seth Littrell
Register News Writer
MADISON COUNTY —
Persistent rain so far this summer has caused major problems for the county’s tobacco crop, according to Brandon Sears, Madison County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources.
He predicts up to a 40-percent yield reduction for tobacco farms this year, and he urges producers with crop insurance to see their agents about taking steps to deal with such a loss.
“This has been a very wet growing season,” Sears said. “Tobacco is a dry-weather crop. Last year, the plants grew a good root system because they were searching for water early.”
According to the Kentucky Mesonet, a weather-tracking system developed by Western Kentucky University, Madison County only had 0.27 inches of rain in June last year. To cope with the drought, the roots of the tobacco plants dug deep into the ground searching for water, and produced a stronger crop.
This year, the county had 6.59 inches of rain in June as well as heavy rains in early July.
The constant saturation meant the plants' roots didn’t need to expand. However, when the rain stopped, the sun came out and temperatures began to rise, the roots were not sufficient to keep many of the taller plants healthy. As a result, many tobacco plants have been withering in the sunlight.
“I've talked to several farmers who have been growing for 30 years or longer, and they can't recall a time it's been this rough,” Sears said.
Sears said eventually many plants should rebuild their root systems if the weather becomes dry enough, but larger plants may have trouble. He recommended light cultivation of the fields to help assist the crops, as well as using side dressing and nitrogen. However, he said for the most part farmers were just going to have to wait and see.
“Mother Nature tends to correct herself over the long term,” Sears said. “Last year it was very dry, and this year we have the exact opposite.”
The weather hasn’t hurt all production, however. Sears said the extra rain has made for an excellent corn crop. It has also allowed for more hay growth although the quality of the hay may be affected by how wet it has been after harvest.
Parks and recreation
Agriculture has not been the only area affected by the rain. According to Richmond Parks and Recreation Director Erin Moore, the attendance at the Paradise Cove pool is significantly down from last year.
“Since we opened the pool, it has rained almost every day,” Moore said. “and many of those days have had storms.”
Moore said the pool will remain open during a light rain, but it must close during heavier showers that obscure lifeguards’ views in the water. When lightning strikes, the pool closes for 30 minutes, but will reopen if the storm passes.
One of the biggest problems the rain has caused for the parks is saturation of ball fields, which usually get heavy use during this part of the season. The dirt fields turn to mud after a heavy rain and cannot be played on until they are dry. This has pushed back a number of games during the summer.
“One of our adult leagues is still in tournament play,” Moore said.
With the fall season set to start in August, the fields and workers will likely not get a break between seasons.
In Berea, baseball and softball games have seen similar scheduling problems. However, Rob Stephens, with parks maintenance, said the biggest issue is finding time when the weather is dry enough to mow the constantly growing grass in the parks.
Seth Littrell can be reached at email@example.com or 624-6623.