FILE - Agriculture, farm, farmer

A drought in Virginia is causing low soil moisture and poor conditions for some crops, according to a new report from the United States Department of Agriculture.

The USDA reported that weather conditions have cooled and precipitation has been low; dry conditions are causing delays in planting. Last week, 78 percent of topsoil was either short or very short on soil moisture. Similarly, 77 percent of subsoil was either short or very short on moisture.

Pasture crops are suffering the worst with 75 percent of the crops being in poor or very poor condition. About 37 percent of alfalfa hay is in poor or very poor condition and 52 percent of other hay is in poor or very poor condition.

“Agricultural operations across the state are experiencing negative impacts due to the dry conditions,” Greg Bilyeu, the director of communications for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, told The Center Square via email.

“Pastures where cattle and other livestock feed have been severely damaged, [are] forcing farmers to provide hay much earlier than normal,” Bilyeu said. “Yields from certain crops are below average. The lack of rain is also preventing fall and winter cover crops from being planted.”

So far, 36 localities have issued open air burning bans and the public is encouraged to check with the Virginia Department of Forestry for details on outdoor burning restrictions, Bilyeu said. The state has encouraged conservation activities, he said, but the drought is not bad enough to warrant statewide mandates on conservation. Localities, however, are permitted to require conservation activities if necessary.

The state has requested local governments monitor the condition of public water works, develop local water conservation and drought contingency plans, minimize non-essential water use and pursue leak detection, among other things.

Gov. Ralph Northam issued a statewide drought watch advisory to increase awareness of the drought.

“More than half of our Commonwealth is currently experiencing a water deficit, which can have lasting agricultural, economic, environmental impacts,” Northam said in a news release. “While water conservation activities during a drought watch are generally voluntary, we encourage localities and individuals across Virginia to heed this warning and take necessary steps to monitor their water usage.”

Soybeans are performing better than some of the other crops with 79 percent in fair or good condition. Cotton and peanuts performed best with more than 95 percent of both in fair or good condition.

Staff Reporter

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and Ohio for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.