News Column

The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va., Donnie Johnston column

June 30, 2014

By Donnie Johnston, The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va.

July 01--SOYBEANS are everywhere. I took a trip to Virginia Beach recently and there were soybeans growing in almost every cultivated field I passed.

Trips to Lynchburg, Louisa County, the lower part of the Shenandoah Valley and the Panhandle of West Virginia provided similar sights. Soybeans are everywhere.

The bean appears to be king in Virginia, at least for this year. Every farmer, it seems, has shifted from corn to soybeans.

Why? Well, as I have alluded to in earlier columns, there are two reasons. First, there was so much rain this spring that farmers had a hard time getting corn in the ground.

Since most varieties of that grain need more than 100 days to fully mature, the window of opportunity narrowed greatly when wet ground postponed planting attempts until late May or early June.

Soybeans have a shorter growing season so many farmers apparently traded in their corn seed for soybeans and changed crops in the middle of the season.

The second reason for the larger bean crop is the fact that soybeans are selling on the futures market for almost $15 per bushel. Corn is less than $4.50 per bushel and the price has been dropping.

You get about three times as much corn per acre as beans, but beans are three times the price of corn. So, theoretically, it all evens out.

By year's end it will be interesting to compare the number of acres of beans planted against past seasons. My guess is that the number will be twice as much while corn acreage may be cut in half, due in large part to spring rain.

Speaking of rainfall (or precipitation), we seem to be on a path to surpass our yearly average of 43 inches once again. Last year I recorded about 62 inches

of moisture while I hit 47 inches in 2012 and just over 70 inches in 2011.

That 2011 total is the second time in the past 14 years that I have recorded more than 70 inches of precipitation in a single year, a sign that we are caught up in an extremely wet pattern.

Already this year I have recorded about 32 inches of precipitation and we have six months left. Even if it doesn't rain a drop between now and September, no one should have to worry about their wells drying up.

What is causing all this rain? Could it be climate change? Yes, it could. But if it is, the climate is changing for the better and we are adapting, as in changing from corn to soybeans across Virginia.

More likely, it is a natural blip in the Earth's weather patterns, one that will remedy itself over the course of time, as happened with the Little Ice Age.

Whatever is happening, I have one of the best gardens that I can remember.

As I point out occasionally, every growing season has its own character and this one is no different.

Last year there was a proliferation of mulberries, and this summer there are hardly any on the trees in my neighborhood.

There were tons of white and red clover last year, but this time around I have seen very little of either variety.

But this has been one of the best black raspberry seasons I can recall, and I have been living on homemade raspberry ice cream for the past month.

No, my raspberry crop didn't come from a carefully cultivated plot at the back end of my garden, but rather from volunteer plants growing through the honeysuckle vines in an old fencerow.

It is a funny thing about raspberries; they seem to have to go through a bird's digestive system to be productive.

About seven years ago

I bought some raspberry plants and started a plot in the back of the garden. As hard as I tried they did nothing so, last year I gave up and mowed them down.

Meanwhile, birds had eaten some of the few berries that had been produced and deposited them (through droppings) in that old fencerow. Now they have developed into strong, healthy vines that have produced several gallons of raspberries this year.

One final note on raspberries: About 35 years ago my father called and told me to come down to his Southwestern Virginia home and bring a 3-gallon water bucket.

I did and he took me to

a mountainside pasture in Lee County that was literally covered in red raspberries. I don't know how many gallons we did pick that day.

Speaking of which, there have never been any red raspberries in my area until I saw some growing wild along the lane last year.

How did they get there? Well, I discovered that two neighbors up the road had patches and, once again, the birds stole a few and deposited seeds in the bushes.

Speaking of birds (I know I am rambling), remember all those quail I heard last summer? Not a single whistle so far this year. I think the hard winter got them all.

But it didn't get the coyotes. I hear one or more almost every night.

Donnie Johnston:


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Source: Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, VA)

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