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Farmers in Southwest Virginia struggling after the drought

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Chilhowie, VA - Southwest Virginia and most of northeast Tennessee are officially out of the drought, but officials in the area tell News 5 last year's drought couldn't have come at a worse time.

For a three month span in 2016, the Tri-Cities didn't see more than an inch of rain on any given day. The lack of rain caused severe drought conditions throughout the region and headaches for local farmers.

"Wheat, barley and rye that were planted in the fall are virtually just sitting there," Andy Overbay, a local farmer and a Senior Agriculture Agent in Smyth County says.

So far in 2017, we've already seen more than two inches of rain. According to the Storm Track 5 Weather Team, the drought-like conditions are over in all of southwest Virginia and in Sullivan and Hawkins Counties. But the damage has already been done.

"When we have a drought, about 50 percent of our pastures are gone," Overbay says.

Without those pastures, Smyth County's biggest economic driver suffers. Overbay says agriculture brings in $57 million dollars a year, and $54 million from that total comes from beef cattle. So if there's no grass, farmers aren't making any cash.

"[Grass] doesn't cost us anything to harvest, the cattle feed themselves," Overbay says. "It costs us more money to buy feed or we have to reduce our herds to match the pasture available.

But there is help available to farmers in southwest Virginia who are struggling to get back on their feet. Overbay says the Virginia Tobacco Community Revitalization Commission is offering a grant to farmers this spring.

"The grant will help farmers buy better spray equipment that drifts less," he says. "Better guidance systems that help them apply a chemical suppressant for weeds that are more economic and efficient."

To qualify for that grant, you have to call your local county's extension and ask to be put on their mailing list.

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