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Hot temps, drought impacting North Carolina farm crops

A corn field in western Union County.
Jennifer Lang
A corn field in western Union County.

Hot temperatures and a lack of rainfall are spreading drought conditions across many parts of North Carolina, and farmers in the state are feeling the impact.

More than two-thirds of North Carolina is experiencing abnormally dry conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Much of eastern North Carolina and some areas in and around Mecklenburg County especially are in moderate to severe drought.

In Union County, the dry conditions have damaged cornfields, turning them brown and withered, and extreme heat also has taken a toll on the cornstalks, said farmer Drew Medlin.

"Once you start getting into the mid 90s, the plant just shuts down, and then you compound that with the lack of rainfall — the corn is just looking really, really bad," Medlin said.

The low rainfall also was making it difficult to plant soybeans, Medlin said, and the heat was preventing some of his corn from pollinating.

"When it gets this hot and it gets this dry, the corn actually won't pollinate," he said. "Sometimes you could actually have a little ear out there, and it may not have any kernels on it because it's been so hot."

Temperatures in Union County have exceeded 90 degrees on 10 days in June, with a peak of 98 degrees on June 23. Meanwhile, only 1.08 inches of rain has fallen since June 1. The National Weather Service says 3.58 inches of rainfall would be considered normal for the area by this time in June.

The hot, dry weather comes as the price of fertilizer, liquid nitrogen and other farm chemicals have been rising, and farmland around Union County has been shrinking due to growing development, Medlin said.

Medlin said his farm would need consistent, steady rain to keep his crops healthy through September. If not, he could lose his crops and any promise of profit this season.

Some relief could be on the way. The National Weather Service is predicting the coming months may bring above average rainfall to North Carolina, though temperatures could likely stay above average.

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Nick de la Canal is an on air host and reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal