Last updated: August 19. 2013 10:35AM - 2093 Views
Wil Petty Staff Writer jpetty@civitasmedia.com

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The rain this year has been so severe to the farming community that one agriculture expert is calling it a natural disaster.

“I would say we’re nothing short of a natural disaster,” Travis Birdsell, an agriculture extension agent for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension said. “Natural disasters have to be far-reaching and affect people’s way of life.”

And it has – outdoor tourism has been hit, farmers and gardeners are dealing with plants rotting as well as problems with blight and fungus. Cattlemen have to worry about supplying their cattle with hay and tree farmers have to worry about accessing their fields.

The growing season for 2013 is running out, meaning there’s little to no time left to recover.

“We’re getting to that cliff where you can’t recover agriculturally for the year,” Birdsell said. “There’s just not enough time left before the first frost date.”

Faith Mountain Farm in Creston has also been hit hard by the weather.

James Wilkes, one of the farm’s owners, said honey production had been down as much as 75 percent and there were weeks he could not plant sunflowers because of the rain. Wilkes also said all aspects of their farm income, including making baked goods, are affected.

“The baking is indirectly affected because when it rains at a farmer’s market we can’t sell our goods, and there have been many rainy farmer markets this year,” he said.

Wilkes has also been unable to reach areas of his land, due to flood waters washing out a bridge on his property.

Other farms are dealing with similar issues. Ron Joyner of Big Horse Creek Farm in Lansing has been hit hard by diseased apples.

“We’ve had some terrible disease problems this year with apple scab, which is predominate in this type of weather,” he said. “I figure we have lost about a third of our crop to apple scab.”

Joyner said the farm also lost a third of their garlic crop because of the wet weather, causing the plants to rot.

“With this much rain, there’s just not a lot you can do,” Joyner said.

The rain’s effect on farming goes beyond the crops. For instance, roads used to get back into the different fields have been washed out making it impossible to go back and tend to the plants.

“It’s not one aspect of farming that’s been hit,” Birdsell said. “It’s all of them.”

Ashe County’s livestock industry is also taking a hit, albeit not as hard as those who farm.

“It really has not been that bad,” Wayne Walters, manager of the Ashe Cattle Company said. “One thing is our cattle aren’t eating as much so they aren’t as big as they typically are.”

Walters said the main concern for the cattlemen was a lack of hay and grain in the winter months. In turn, many cattlemen are looking to bring in hay from neighboring states to get through the cold season.

Another major industry in Ashe County, Christmas trees look to be thriving at this point.

“(The trees) aren’t at risk at this point, hopefully it doesn’t keep up for the rest of the season,” Rusty Barr, owner of Barr Evergreens said. “Whenever you have excessive amounts it can promote some problems, but we haven’t seen any as of yet.”

Barr said people are still buying trees, but he is hoping that the rain ends in time for the harvest season.

“It’s been harder for us to get in the fields and actually do the work,” he said. “You don’t realize how poor access we have sometimes until it rains for five or six days in a row.”

Was there anything that farmers could have done to prevent the damage caused by the rain? Birdsell says no.

“In farming, you’re a slave to the weather, he said. “It’s the one thing you have no control of and can’t really predict in advance.”

Birdsell said he hopes that people can look back on this later and remember how they made it through the history-making wet season. But the optimism is not there for now.

“When your livelihood is out on the field rotting it’s hard to look to the next year,” Birdsell said.

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