Local farmers feeling the effects of too much rain

by Caroline Brown

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

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4 Comments to “Local farmers feeling the effects of too much rain”

  1. I’m a huge fan of buying local and buying organic wherever possible! Thank you for sharing this article.

    Farming requires such a careful balance from the environment, it’s just amazing! I hope that the local farmers get a break with some of their autumn crops.

    By the by, have you had a chance to see An Inconvenient Truth?

  2. Hi JLB — I can’t imagine being a family farmer–I think it’s so hard to break even…and they bust their butts, esp. if they try to use sustainable methods.

    I did see An Inconvenient Truth and reviewed it here:
    http://earthfriendlygardening.wordpress.com/2006/07/05/review-an-inconvenient-truth/

    What did you think of it? I certainly was reminded of how global climate change is/will continue to affect us as I was writing this blog post about farming and the heavy rains.

  3. Thanks for the link to your review of An Inconvenient Truth – I figured you would have caught it by now! I thought it was truly well done, and although I’m not a theatre goer, I am so glad that I got out and saw this one and filled another seat for it.

    What I felt was the most important aspect of the film was that it put big concepts and somewhat complicated geological effects into clear terms with ample visuals to make it accessible to a wide variety of people.

    The personal asides from Gore surprised me a little, but what I found most important about those elements were that they provided entry points – places where the doubtful, unconvinced, or simply uninformed viewers could connect with the ways in which global climate change has, can, and will affect our lives on a personal level. For those who might not be familiar with the science behind these effects, or who simply have never believed it, I think this is key to helping them find a point at which this becomes personally important in their lives – enough to want to make a change.

    The part that sticks with me the most (apart from the images with the frog in the beaker) is one of the lines on the screen at the end with the credits; something to the effect of “If you believe in prayer, pray for people to find the strength to change. That one just keeps rolling around in my head!

    I agree with you – I have so much admiration for family farmers – or any farmers really. As an amateur gardener, I feel fortunate if my few vegetables manage to mature! I definitely aspire to learn to be a better gardener, but I’d have a long way to go before I could sustain an entire family, let alone an entire community, on what my garden might produce!

    So glad to have found your blog!

    JLB

    PS – Did you read the NYT article about the drinking water? Just one of countless effects I suppose… here’s the link if you’re interested (if you’re not a subscriber, let me know and I’ll email it to you).

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/20/nyregion/20water.html

  4. Hi JLB, the movie was very well done–the way it was presented was outstanding. I hope a lot of people (Americans, anyway) went to see it. I must have left the theater before the quote you mentioned came on.

    I think people have to WANT to change before they can find the strength to change. My feeling is that the people who went to see the movie probably do need to find the strength to change, if they haven’t already. However, for a lot of other people, they have no idea what’s going on or they don’t believe it. For them, I’ll pray that they get…oh, I don’t know–maybe, a brain? :)

    Oh & thanks for the NYT article. It’s all related. I think water is the next oil, if you know what I mean. We take it for granted and one day we’re going to have to pay to take a bath.

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