July 19, 2008

Moderate Drought Conditions Continue in Lenoir County

By Christopher Lavender, The Free Press, Kinston, N.C.

Jul. 19--Moderate drought conditions will continue for Lenoir County and surrounding areas this weekend as farmers attempt to cope with their crop losses caused by the weather's dry conditions.

Rain forecasted for tonight and Sunday morning is expected to bring some temporary relief to the area as a low pressure hugs the North Carolina coast, sending scattered showers inland, Accuweather meteorologist Carrie McCabe said.

"Tropical moisture is moving from the Southeast," she said. "Weather should be unsettled through Sunday and some areas could receive up to half inch of rainfall."

Currently, there are 47 counties in the state under moderate drought conditions, including Lenoir, Greene, Jones, Onslow, Wayne, and Pitt counties. The N.C. Drought Management Advisory Council released a report Thursday that shows the drought is likely to improve in Eastern North Carolina through October.

For local farmers, the good news comes too late. Corn crops were devastated this year by drought conditions, especially in southern Pitt County, local farmer Kendall Hill said.

Hill, owner and operator of Tull Hill Farms Inc., harvests tobacco, cabbage, lettuce, cotton, soybeans and sweet potatoes annually on 4,000 acres of farmland in Lenoir, Greene and Pitt counties.

"The corn crop is a loss almost everywhere," he said. "Soybeans are behind schedule because germination has been very poor. It's too early to tell how cotton is going to do."

Tobacco harvesting is expected to be behind schedule as well this year, Hill said. A majority of the tobacco crop will be harvested in August, which is unusually late in the season.

Lenoir and Jones counties agricultural extension service officials agreed with Hill's assessment that corn crops will be a total loss this year for farmers.

"Corn looks bad," Jones County extension agent Jacob Morgan said. "The rain we had during the past two weeks has not done anything to help."

State officials will continue to monitor drought conditions through the end of the year. It's usually more difficult to forecast for rain in the summer months than in fall or winter, N.C. State University Director of Climate Ryan Boyles, said.

"I have no clue when the drought will end," he said. "Recent weather patterns have shown there could be some improvement."

Eve Huneycutt, Lenoir County agriculture extension agent, said recent rainfall hasn't helped ease current drought conditions.

"We are still trying to make up from our rainfall deficit from last year," she said. "The hay crop is probably going to be less than last year."

Neuse River water levels in Kinston rose to 5.25 feet on July 14, but dropped to 4.5 feet Friday, according to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

While Eastern North Carolina remains under moderate drought conditions, 13 counties in the western half of the state are plagued with exceptional drought, including McDowell, Yancey, Gaston and Polk counties.

Chris Lavender can be reached at (252) 559-1078 or [email protected]


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