2013-05-16 / Front Page

Is Wilkes County really out of this multi-year drought?

By Kip Burke
news editor


A worker for Barnett Farms cuts the edges of a field in preparation for the big cutting later in the week. With good rains, farmers are seeing their fields green and flourishing again. A worker for Barnett Farms cuts the edges of a field in preparation for the big cutting later in the week. With good rains, farmers are seeing their fields green and flourishing again. Wilkes County may be out of the drought, but agriculture experts are still wondering if the recent rains have truly made up for the hundreds of inches that failed to fall during Georgia’s three-year drought.

“The map on Georgia’s Drought Monitor shows we’re in the white – no drought,” said Wilkes County Extension Coordinator Frank Watson, “but it’s hard for me to believe that, since we have not gotten the equivalent of all the rain we were behind over the last few years. I guess at some point it’s replenished without catching up with the years past.”

Since 2009, Wilkes County has been in “severe drought” or “extreme drought” conditions along with much of the rest of Georgia. GeorgiaDrought.org is a good resource for historical information, he said.

Water levels seem normal in the Wilkes County streams he was sampling Monday morning, Watson said. “After the rain we had last week, it’s as high as it normally is, and there are places in Georgia were it’s above normal. But I’d be curious how deep that moisture goes down. But as far as sub-soil moisture, I haven’t talked to anyone who’s dug six feet down. All the indicators say it should be normal.”

Whatever the precise status of Wilkes County’s rain gauge, hay fields are flourishing. “The grass is coming up good,” Watson said. “The winter forage rye grass is waist deep, and a lot of farmers made their first cutting for silage or other uses three weeks ago when it was at its prime.”

The cool nights are slowing the growth of summer’s Bermuda grass crop. “When the temperatures consistently stay over 80 in the daytime and the low temperature is above 60, the Bermuda will take off. If it doesn’t stay cool, they’ll do their first real good cutting by the first of June.”

If rain continues to fall reliably, he said, the next cuttings of hay are expected to be very good, and the entire growing season could turn out well. “We’d have to go a bunch of weeks without rain for it to pull us down now.”

The rain has also helped relieve the low wells around Rayle, City Councilman Jake Buff said. “This rain has really been a blessing,” he said. “Right now we’ve got nobody complaining about not having enough water. Everybody seems okay.”

During the drought, the water level in wells in the Willisville area had gone so low that the wells were unusable, Buff said. “They weren’t dry wells, they just didn’t have enough water. It seems like this rain has helped that with everybody.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has also announced the end of drought operations for Clarks Hill and the J. Strom Thurmond Dam and Lake, with a water level at 328 feet above sea level for the first time since March 2011. (See the separate story on page 2.)

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