Farmers, DPW talk: How crops, trees are weathering the rain

  • This large rotting mass of a pumpkin at the Butynski Farm in Greenfield will not be going to the Franklin County Fair this year. August 16, 2018 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz...

  • Jay Butynski walks along a row of drowned squash that will get harrowed into the ground at his family's farm in Greenfield. August 16, 2018 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz...

  • Corn that was blown over in a recent thunder storm at the Butynski Farm in Greenfield. August 16, 2018 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz...

  • This large tree recently fell over in saturated ground in Highland Park in Greenfield leaving a pool of ground water where the root ball once braced the tree. August 16, 2018 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz...

Staff Writer
Published: 8/16/2018 6:48:17 PM

This month’s unrelenting rain has swollen rivers and streams, flooded farm fields and kept pollinators from turning vegetable blossoms into fruit.

Greenfield alone has received at least three times more rain this month than in August 2017, according to Department of Public Works’ weather records. As of Thursday, Greenfield saw nearly 9 inches of rainfall this month. By this time last year, it had 2½ inches of rainfall.

“There’s an old saying that you can always add water, but you can’t take it away,” said Claire Morenon of Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture. “I know that the rain has been causing some challenges,” she said. “When the fields are soaked, it can damage some plants and increase pests. Or, it makes it too difficult for equipment to work in the fields.”

Still, said Morenon, local farmers are producing a lot of food. Despite the challenging season, “farmers are doing what they do,” she said.

“It is true, when we had extreme drought, it was a huge labor burden,” she added. “Anything can be a benefit or a drawback in the extreme.”

According to Ben Clark of Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield, that farm saw at least 3 inches of rain on Saturday and Sunday alone.

“I think every farm is feeling the effect of too much rain,” he said. “That’s just made it really difficult, driving up the field to our peaches. We’re hoping for a couple of days of dry weather.”

Peaches prefer hot and dry weather, he said. “The peaches are ripening faster, because of all the water. We’ve lost some of the crop.”

Clark noted that peaches can’t be picked in the rain, because the peach skins get loose with handling. He said some peaches were picked in advance of the heaviest rain, to fully ripen off the tree.

“Vegetable farms have a different problem, of standing water in the fields, rotting produce,” he said.

“It’s farming,” he said. “We’d be complaining if there weren’t enough water. On the plus side,” he added, “we haven’t had to irrigate.”

At Butynski’s Farm Stand in Greenfield, many vine crops, including cucumber, squash and melons, were ruined by phytophthora – a pathogen spread by heavy rains and hot weather.

“A lot of our vine crops are just rotting, because it’s so wet,” said Jason Butynski, a Recorder sports writer who also works at his family’s farm. “We have an entire field of winter squash that has rotted.”

“It had been a pretty good summer, until late July, when it turned sour for a lot of people,” Butynski said. “We’re picking about one-third of what we usually pick.”

When asked if the rainfall improved any crop, he replied: “Nothing’s benefited. Corn isn’t affected as much, but even some of the storms have knocked corn over.”

Red Fire Farm in Montague Center and Granby grows at least 100 varieties of tomatoes — including heirloom varieties, and so the wet weather has “definitely been a challenge for a lot of our crops,” said farm co-owner Sarah Voiland.

“We have parts of the field where there is standing water and the plant roots can’t get air or nutrients. And the lower places, even on our well-drained fields, are getting saturated,” Voiland said.

Pollinating insects don’t come out in the rain, so the blossoms on squash, zucchini and cucumber plants “don’t make much fruit,” she said.

“To harvest, we have to drive out to the fields in trucks; I can’t tell you how many times we’ve gotten trucks stuck. And we’ve towed our neighbors’ vehicles out, too.”

Voiland estimated her farm saw at least 5 inches of rainfall last week.

Red Fire is getting ready for its annual Tomato Festival in Granby on Aug. 25. But some of the rain-soaked heirloom tomatoes are more susceptible to splitting than are commercial varieties. “The older varieties, they haven’t been hybridized and don’t have as many shippable qualities.”

To avoid wasting the split tomatoes, Red Fire Farm is selling them in bulk for canning and sauce-making, she said.

Ironically, said vegetable specialist Katie Campbell-Nelson of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the southeast coastal area of Massachusetts is suffering a drought. “One place might get 5 inches and another place might not get any,” she said.

And, although our weather generally comes from the northwest and goes out to sea, the Gulf Stream has gone straight up, bringing pathogens and insects from the South. “They didn’t come up until the last two weeks — then bam,” she said.

“Weeds? Weeds are terrible — you just can’t get them to stop growing, if you don’t have a long enough dry period,” she remarked.

Soggy trees

The heavy rainfall has also taken out trees growing in vulnerable areas, where the water table is so high that the trees are coming out by the roots.

“A lot of times, in situations like this, the ground becomes saturated,” said Paul Raskevitz, Greenfield DPW field superintendent and tree warden.

He said Greenfield was “lucky” because, in the last two weeks, the department has only had to remove two trees. “We’ve had more problems with water in basements — and a lot of requests to make sure we don’t have any leaking water mains,” he said.

Raskevitz said the town has drainage, but private land owners may have more trees down on their properties.

Both Jim’s Tree Service and Renaud Tree Care Inc. have seen an increase in calls for trees damaged or uprooted by the heavy rains.

“It’s been an unusual year,” said Donna Baronas of Renaud Tree Care.

Jim Elwell of Jim’s Tree Service said the rain is making the trees much heavier than usual, when it comes to cutting off limbs and branches.

“It’s making the trees really heavy. Also, what’s happening, if somebody has a split in their tree, is the (water) weight pulls it down. It makes it very difficult, because the jobs are so wet.” Elwell said water sometimes oozes out of fresh-cut branches.

According to the National Weather Service in Taunton, heavy rain is predicted for Friday, with showers and thunderstorms continuing through Saturday morning.


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