Rainy weather hurts crops
Soggy Fields along Mill Village Rd in Deerfield
Corn shows the effect of the frequent rains this season in North Meadows of Deerfield.
Soggy Fields along Mill Village Rd in Deerfield
Farms around the region have been drenched by 11½ inches of rain over the past month, pounding strawberries, dousing grain crops, leaching nitrogen from the soil and making saturated fields nearly impossible to work on.
“The strawberry season came to a fast close,” said Sunderland grower Michael Wisseman. “All of that humidity and rain kind of caught up with us. Strawberries like moisture, but obviously, they’re such a fragile fruit and have such a soft skin, that when they’re full of water and never really get a chance to get air circulating through there to help them dry out, they get much more bruised.”
Compared to last year’s extended five-week season, marked by cool, dry weather, Wisseman called this year’s three-week harvest “a very fast and furious season.”
His crews were still out doing some final picking on Warner Farms’ 5½ acres of strawberries on Tuesday, just as Nourse Farm in Whately continues a season that Tim Nourse said has been challenging.
In addition to making the crops more susceptible to molds, the kind of inundation farmers have seen in recent weeks means that it’s hard to do harvesting, Nourse said.
“We need drying weather just to dry out the fields,” he said, adding that rain on Monday forced workers out of the fields by 11 a.m., so that harvest schedules have been curtailed.
It’s uncertain how long the season continues at Nourse, where the raspberry picking is about to begin on a crop that he said seems to be in good shape.
Another problem for all crops is that nitrogen and other nutrients have been washed out of the soil by all of the rains.
“This is the first year I can remember when we’ve had to top dress (the sweet corn crop with fertilizer) because the 7 or 8 inches of rain we’ve had depleted the nitrogen,” Wisseman said. “We’ve been getting a lot of yellow striping and uneven, erratic growth.”
The period of extended, heavy rains, has been caused by a large trough in the Jet Stream parked over much of the Eastern Seaboard, according to the National Weather Service, which says the muggy weather will remain in place for the next several days.
“I think the weather patterns are more extreme, and it definitely makes it more challenging,” said Wisseman. “We go from a very, very dry spring to a very wet period, where we don’t just get showers, we get huge showers.”
And yet, said Caroline Pam of The Kitchen Garden farm in Sunderland, “There have been moments of sun,” so that tomatoes and other crops have been ripening, despite problems of getting equipment into soggy fields and some gaps in lettuce and other succession crops.
Nathan L’Etoile at Four Star Farms in Northfield said that because of wet fields, “If we need to fertilize or spray something on a timely schedule, timely doesn’t always work out, so there are delays in practices and things needed to do.”
Four Star’s 110-acre grain crop has also been susceptible to lodging, in which saturated seed heads bend over because of their weight, or are blown over by high winds, making them more susceptible to mold.
“This kind of weather is absolutely great for fungus and molds,” he said.
His father, Eugene L’Etoile, said harvesting the grain might come a week or two later than typical, to allow it to partially dry out, reducing the amount of mechanical drying that the farm will have to do using its 2.2 million BTU propane-fired grain dryer. Still, “My guess is that we’re going to be doing that an awful lot this year” in order to get wheat down to roughly 12 percent moisture that’s needed for proper storage.
Like others, Four Star had its problems just getting into sodden fields.
“We go out in the field where we harvested sod, and it’s almost like walking on a sponge,” the elder said L’Etoile, adding that the yield on the farm’s roughly seven acres of hops will also be reduced.
And while Ruth Hazzard, a University of Massachusetts Extension specialist, said that many vegetable crops around the region seem to be doing fairly well, despite depletion of nutrients and difficulty for farmers getting into their fields, she added, “If this (period of heavy rain) continues, it could be really, really bad.”
That’s because long periods of saturated soils can spread diseases like phytopthera, which can spread through spores in air and water and can cause serious long-term soil problems.
“The spores are out there. I feel like we’re just sitting on tenterhooks waiting for this problem to explode,” Hazzard said. “There’s a lot of potential ... It reminds me a little too much of 2009,” said Hazzard, referring to the late-season blight that ruined tomato and potato crops around the region.
For now, though, given that most crops seem to be growing, “It’s not all doom and gloom,” she said. “It’s just a little soggy.”