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For Va. farmers, recent wet weather is a mixed blessing

Drought conditions ease but there is now a threat of oversaturation

NEW KENT – A torrent of wet weather has lifted drought advisories in several Virginia localities – and saturated some farmers’ fields. 

After a dry summer and fall, several areas in Virginia received above-average rainfall over the past few weeks, prompting the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to remove drought advisories in 49 counties.

One of those counties was New Kent, where Paul Davis grows wheat, grains and other crops. He said his community received 9 inches of rain in December, followed by another 4 in January. 

“We’re plenty wet,” said Davis, a Virginia Farm Bureau member. “We’ve had ponding of water in the fields that probably drowned out some cover crops, but we won’t know until spring how that’s going to go.”

According to the most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture Crop Progress Report, 77% of topsoil moisture and 58% of subsoil moisture was adequate as of Jan. 2, with some fields seeing standing water. The report also noted 58% of the state’s barley and 78% of winter wheat are in good condition. 

Despite the frequent rains making it difficult to work outside, Davis was able to apply nitrogen and weed killer to his wheat on time. And while things “don’t look too bad” from all the rain, he’s concerned about the recent cold snap. 

“It was 15 degrees in the mornings, so it’s tough on the cover crops and the hard red winter wheat, or any wheat that you’re growing,” he said. “Any winter annual doesn’t like wet feet and sub-15 degree weather.”

While rains lifted several counties out of drought, a DEQ advisory stated that 15 counties in the Big Sandy and Upper James areas remain under a drought watch. Seven counties in the Shenandoah region, which includes Augusta, Clarke, Frederick, Page, Rockingham, Shenandoah and Warren counties, are under a drought warning – where significant drought is imminent.

“The recent rains have helped a lot with soil moisture, especially since they were pretty slow, all-day type rains,” explained Matt Booher, a Virginia Cooperative Extension agent in Rockingham County. “From a cropping standpoint, we are back to normal.”

But, he added, “our groundwater reserves that wells depend on are still below average for this time of year. This can impact irrigation water, water for poultry houses and rural homes.”

The DEQ noted long-term precipitation deficits persist, and more rain is needed to increase stream flows and groundwater reserves. It urges residents to conserve water resources by minimizing water use, monitoring drought conditions and detecting and repairing any leaks.

For more information on the current drought status, visit