From EMPIRE FARM & DAIRY magazine
By MARCUS WOLF
Farmers in the Northeast are bracing for a loss of crops and a reduction in quality after months of heavy rainfall and cooler temperatures.
“It’s just been a rough year for everyone who’s trying to grow anything out in the field,” said Michael Hunter, a field crop specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson and Lewis counties.
Dairy farmers with oversaturated fields across the state likely will experience lower yields for their corn crops this year, Hunter said.
Jon Greenwood, a Canton dairy farmer and president of the St. Lawrence County Farm Bureau, said several farmers were forced to plant their corn late, and the weather and rainfall have delayed its growth.
If the corn doesn’t mature before the frost, Greenwood, who owns Greenwood Dairy Farm with his wife Linda, said farmers could lose some of their yields.
“(Even) if it turns out right for the rest of the season, some of the fields are never going to be able to turn around or reach maturity,” said Joseph Lawrence, a dairy forage systems specialist with the Cornell PRO-DAIRY program.
Douglas Shelmidine, co-owner of Sheland Farms in the town of Ellisburg, said the rainy weather earlier this year delayed him from planting his corn by three weeks, and the recent rainfall has oversaturated some of the acreage for his corn crop. Whether the corn matures in time before the frost will determine the impact to its nutritional quality, he said.
“I’m not losing sleep over quality just yet,” he said.
For soybeans, Lawrence said the nutritional quality will remain stable so long as the plants can fully mature, although some farmers might harvest smaller beans due to the lack of sun and lower temperatures. Farmers also may be able to avoid significant losses in yields should they experience a late frost.
Unlike with corn and other grain crops, the above-average rainfall has provided a sufficient hay yield for several farmers, but the weather has prevented them from harvesting it at times.
Hunter said farmers’ opportunities for harvesting hay at its nutritional peak are narrow, and the heavy rain has prevented them from harvesting at the optimal times, meaning the quality of the crop will most likely decline.
Lawrence said a drop in hay quality likely would result in a drop in milk production, unless farmers decide to purchase supplements to maintain the nutritional quality of their feed.
“We missed a lot of optimal times for harvesting our hay crop at the times we would like to,” Hunter said.
John Wagner, a field supervisor with New York Farm Bureau, said recent showers have delayed crop growers, including dairy farmers, in Oswego County from harvesting their hay for dry hay silage on time due to excessive moisture in the ground. Those farmers, he said, will have hay with “quality (that) has been severely degraded.”
Wagner also said excessive rainfall in the spring prevented Oswego County farmers from planting their corn and soybeans at the time they wanted.
“So that’s going to affect the yield and quality as we get toward the harvest (in the fall),” he said. The above-average rainfall in the past four months also has delayed the planting of some farmers’ vegetables and hurt the quality of some of their produce.
In addition to setting the planting of some of his vegetables back three weeks, costing him three weeks in sales, Jay Canzonier, who owns North Branch Farms in Belleville, said the excess rain has forced him to cull a larger percentage of his tomatoes and throw away about two-thirds of the cucumbers he and his staff pick.
Every other year, Canzonier said his vegetables experience rapid growth, a growth they haven’t achieved due to the recent weather.
The rain and cold also have brought the risk of disease spreading through crops and produce, but Canzonier said he is taking measures to prevent disease from reaching his produce.
Despite recent conditions, Canzonier said he still has sufficient produce for sale, including bell peppers, sweet corn, lettuce and tomatoes.
“There is a lot of good stuff out there for people to grab,” Canzonier said.
Chris Bush, who operates Bush Gardens in Denmark with her husband, Loren, said the recent weather has cost her about a quarter of her crops. With fewer vegetables to sell, Bush said she was unable to participate in the Lowville Farmers Market this year, but she still was able to sell produce at the Watertown and Carthage farmers markets.
Bush also said some of her cucumbers have died, some of her tomatoes are still green and small, some of her cauliflower plants have black spots, and some of her potatoes are too small. The tomatoes and cucumbers she planted in her three high tunnels, however, “look decent” and make up the majority of the produce at the farmers markets.
“You just have to wait and see what happens and hope you can harvest what you planted,” Bush said.
Dick DeGraff, who owns Grindstone Farm in Pulaski, said he believes he lost 30 to 40 percent of his produce so far this season from the above average rainfall, including some that were “just plain waterlogged.”
Most of the produce he said he planted inside his high tunnels was fine, but he was worried about the wet weather bringing fungal diseases.
“We haven’t been able to cultivate many of our crops,” he said. “We can actually handle no rain, but we can’t handle too much rain.”
DeGraff also said he and his staff haven’t been able to pick blueberries when they ripen due to the excess rain.
“I’m seeing a lot of soft fruit. I think (the weather has) damaged the fruit,” he said. “After this last weekend, the fruit quality has diminished significantly.”
George Krul, who owns Stoney Meadow Farm in Oswego, said he lost about 25 percent of his produce from the rain, which runs down the hills into some of the fields where he has planted pumpkins, sweet corn, squash and gourds. Some of his pumpkins also were affected by fungal infections and blight, he said.
Krul, however, said produce he planted in well-drained soil, including his tomatoes, was not affected.
“Anything that’s on well-drained ground seems to have a better chance,” he said.