Unpredictable Winter Weather Could Affect Farmers

Feb 25, 2020

File photo of soybeans beginning to sprout on a farm in Nashville, North Carolina, on Thursday, May 16, 2019.
Credit Madeline Gray / For WUNC

North Carolina's winter weather has been unpredictable -- swinging quickly from spring-like temperatures to snow and back. If that continues, those extreme swings could affect farmers.

Ron Heiniger, who specializes in crop and soil sciences at N.C. State University, says the mostly warm weather has caused crops like winter wheat and canola to take off, making them more vulnerable if we see another cold snap.

“This weather has sort of thrown both the farmers and the crop itself into sort of a wishy washy position,” he said. “This last cold period is still sort of in our winter, but boy, if it gets later than this and we get cold weather, then we'll be in trouble.”

Heiniger warns he's not a climate scientist, but he says it's hard not to want to blame climate change for the erratic weather. He says farmers are in uncharted territory.

“We're in the position that if this crazy weather continues in this pattern and we keep getting cold spells like this that we can see some damage here as we get closer to the end of March and into April,” he said.

So far, most North Carolina crops are safe because they haven't grown tall enough to expose the most vulnerable parts of the plant. But farmers are in a quandary about whether to fertilize or not, and are crossing their fingers the state doesn’t experience a late freeze.