An interesting article in today’s Providence Journal describes the effects of our rainy spring and summer on local crops. Sorry if the ProJo makes you register; I’ll include the most important snips so you’re not forced to register with them.
Here’s the paper’s succinct description of what’s happened here so far this summer:
With more than 16 inches of rain pelting the state through May and June, popular native crops such as sweet corn and strawberries have suffered. Plowed fields turned into swamps, seedlings were swept away, and many of the plants that did take root were left dwarfed, yellowed and twisted from too much water.
A lot of farmers have felt the economic sting of this:
Depending on whether the crop was potatoes, peaches or feed for dairy herds, farmers said that they are looking at harvest losses of 30 percent to 70 percent this year.
This is terrible news for the state’s farmers. But, farmers are tough, or they’d be in another business:
“We’re a tough, tough group, but we’re not going to quit,” said Stamp, 66, who has a lifetime of experience growing sugar corn in and around Exeter. He explained that harvesting is doubly hard for local farmers this year since 2 acres will barely yield what 1 did last year. “But,” he said, “we’ll do the work we have to in order to make sure there is produce for people to buy.”
Vinny Confreda — the largest vegetable grower in the state, with more than 400 acres of fields in Cranston, Warwick and Scituate — said that some of his cornfields have to be harvested by hand because there are so many stalks not bearing any ears that it is not practical to use machinery that plucks every row.
He and other farmers yesterday said that many people do not understand how much damage excessive rainfall does and how little a farmer can do to combat the spoilage. “I’ve been farming my whole life and this is the worst season of any I remember,” said Louis Escobar, Portsmouth dairy farmer and president of the Rhody Fresh milk co-op. “It was dry in the spring and good for preparing the soil — then the rains came. We planted in mud and corn died from too much water. A seed can grow in moist soil, but it can’t grow in water.”
Jan Eckhart of Sweetberry Farm in Middletown watched his fields of strawberries become sodden earlier this year and is now anxious about his raspberry crops and peach orchard. “No sun and lots of rains means no bees,” he said. “No bees, no pollination, no peaches.”
“At least when it’s dry you can irrigate,” Eckhart said. “When it’s too wet, there’s nothing you can do.”
Farmers at yesterday’s meeting passed around snapshots of their faltering fields, which ironically looked a lot like drought years, with large patches of bare soil bearing only spindly plants. It’s all a matter of too much stress, Confreda said. With excessive rain, seeds can’t sprout in fields filled with puddles, fertilizer is washed from the furrows, and seedlings that do take root are so starved for nutrients that they are stunted and prone to blight.
How can you help? Please support local farmers by seeking out local produce at farmstands and farmers markets. You can find out where to buy local produce at Farm Fresh RI.
Photo courtesy of Tuscaloosa Community Supported Agriculture, Tuscaloosa, Alabama