High heat threatens struggling crops in central North Carolina

Anthony Wilson Image
Sunday, June 23, 2024
High heat threatens struggling crops in central NC
"A significant amount of loss."

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- If you think the summer heat's tough on your lawn, imagine having hundreds of scorched acres that you depend on for your livelihood. That's the challenge seventh-generation farmer James Michael Byrd, who grows tobacco, cotton, and corn in Bunn Level is facing.

During a visit to his feed corn fields on Sunday, he showed ABC11 the effects of the punishing sun on the crop.

"Your corn cob is right in here," he said, pointing to corn silk visible near the bottom of a stalk. "But if this pollen is dried up, and no moisture, it's not gonna produce that cob."

The heat's effects on Byrd's field and its yield are apparent as row after row of stalks, with yellowing tips of leaves, in bone-dry soil.

"This corn here was planted in the mid-part of April, and we had some good plant weather," Byrd said. "Everything was looking good because we had some moisture, some rain back then. Well, the last 28, 30 days, I would say we hadn't had any measurable rain. Terrific heat, extremely dry. We won't really know what it's going to yield until we go to harvest. It's going to be affected you know, pretty big time. But (like us) those farmers in the central, eastern (part of) North Carolina is suffering bad right now."

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Drone11 provided a bird's eye view of the 350 acres where Byrd's corn is struggling to survive. He said that it's probably too expensive to irrigate so many acres now.

"And unfortunately, we don't have any water source here on our farm. I wish we did. Down the road, it might be something we have to look into. But as of right now...we don't have any type of irrigation," Byrd said. "This corn will be harvested probably September 1, mid-September. A good average here in Harnett County is 130 bushels to the acre. Last year we had a fantastic crop, I think we averaged 180 across the board of dry land corn. But this year I would be surprised if we can get 120, the way it looks now."

So despite forecasts of more hot, dry weather in the week ahead, he's hoping for some eventual soaking rainfall.

"Well, the corn would appreciate it and I would too," Byrd said. "I'm not going to say this crop has gone completely but we've got a significant amount of loss."

Now Byrd and all the affected farmers are counting on relief from conditions they can't control.

"That's all we can do," he said. "Hope and pray."