Warm, wet winter wreaking havoc on NC farm fields

Posted December 29, 2015 6:50 p.m. EST

— Winter is the season to grow wheat, to harvest soybeans and for strawberries to take hold, among other crops. But the unseasonably warm weather is confusing plants and trees, and recent heavy rains have saturated fields.

Don Nicholson, a regional agronomist for the state Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, said strawberries are growing too fast and could be more susceptible to a cold snap later in the winter. Soggy ground also limits the harvesting of soybeans and other field crops and the planting of winter wheat and rapeseed.

"The wet, warm conditions have led to as much crop damage as I have ever seen to soybeans," Nicholson said in an email to WRAL News. "They are molding, which, depending on the amount of damage, can make them unmarketable."

Joe Gillis has fields of soybeans that are under water, and he's also having difficulty harvesting the 700 or so acres of cotton he planted on his Cumberland County farm this year.

"The ground has become saturated now, and the equipment gets stuck. You just can't traverse through the fields with it being so wet," Gillis said Tuesday. "It's just a tough situation. It's one of the gambles that you have to contend with being a farmer."

Jared Nucci sells the hay grown on Gillis' farm, but the warmer weather has allowed the farmers who normally buy his crop to grow their own.

"I haven't really sold any hay this year," Nucci said. "(Last year) by this time, I had sold over 300 round bales, and this year, I've only moved five."

Nicholson said it's too early to estimate the losses for farmers, but Gillis, a third-generation farmer who has had plenty of battles with Mother Nature over the past 45 years, said he and other farmers will continue fighting.

"It's never the end of the world. There's always hope," he said. "Farmers live in hope and plan on next year being better."