By Roxanna Pearl Beebe-Center
Special to the Rappahannock News
The past few months have been filled with torrential downpours and heavy black rain clouds around every corner. The ground is a soggy, saturated mess.
In fact, some Virginia regions have had two months worth of rain in two weeks. You may be glad the rain has graced our skies, or you may be feeling bogged down by the constant showers. Whatever your stance on the wet weather, there is some good news.
Last fall, we had a groundwater emergency and stream flow watch. The Northern Piedmont region including Rappahannock County was the only region in the state to issue a Drought Emergency, the most serious drought stage classification. After all the rain we’ve had recently, the precipitation, groundwater, streamflow, and reservoir levels have returned to normal. The drought is officially over.
Groundwater levels are a huge factor in the way that drought severity is measured. Ground water is the amount of water in the soil deep, deep, down. Ground water is fed by rainfall and surface water. According to NOAA, Groundwater is measured by a “network of wells, which monitor the depth of the water table.” This data is then compared to records of the well, and an assessment is made.
That said, the recent downpours don’t benefit everyone. A large amount of farmers say they favor drought to exuberant amounts of rain. Rain can rot produce while still attached to its vine. It also stimulates fungal growth that kills plants like grapes. The rain causes parasites to flourish, decreasing the quality of wool on sheep. The water and humidity generates foot rot in cattle and equines. The water can drown young plants, destroy hay, and do much, much more.
I asked Carl Henrickson of Little Washington Winery about the rain’s effect on grapes in his vineyard. He said that rain is profitable for the first three years, and drought is beneficial for grapes once they begin to blossom.
“Grapes like to suffer, in the broadest context,” Henrickson says “They don’t like fertile soil, and they don’t like a lot of water.”
Ideally, he said, there should be no rain between the fruit set and the harvest. If this does happen, “We will end up with clusters of grapes that are a little smaller, a little lighter, but the juices that are there inside that grape are solely a function of the photosynthetic relationship between the sun, the leaf, the dirt, and the fruit, not diluted by a single drop of water.”
To dumb it down, the grape juice will be more intense. The opposite is true for excessive rain. If there is too much water, the juice produced by those grapes will be weak and watery.
Turns out the rain can be both a burden and a blessing. Whether the rain is ruining your fields or helping your crops, it’s just mother nature telling us who’s boss.