NY Farmers Struggle With Nasty Weather

7/13/2013 7:00 AM
By Paul Post New York Correspondent

VERNON, N.Y. — Sunshine has been a pretty rare commodity in upstate New York this summer, somewhat akin to icicles in Florida.

Farmers literally don’t know which way to turn first as they struggle to get work done during breaks in the weather, which has stayed wet and soggy in early July, continuing a pattern that dominated the entire month of June.

Schieferstine Dairy in Vernon, Oneida County, got healthy corn planted on only 120 of 200 acres. On the remaining 80 acres, plants that came up are short and yellow.

“It’s pretty sad looking stuff,” said Jacob Schieferstine, who runs the 180-cow operation with his father, David.

Throughout the Northeast, one topic of conversation is foremost on people’s minds: unprecedented rain that has turned normally dry creek beds at this time of year into raging torrents.

“We still have a first cutting of hay out in the fields,” said Jacob Schieferstine, Oneida County Farm Bureau president and the New York Farm Bureau’s young farmer chairman. “We couldn’t get hay in because we were trying to get corn in the ground. We tend to have wetter ground any way. This has really made it worse.”

In places where they lost corn, the Schieferstines hoped to plant a combination of sorghum and Sudan grass, for silage.

“At least that way we’ll get something out of the land,” Jacob Schieferstine said. “But if it doesn’t stop raining pretty soon, it’s going to be too late even for that.”

For the week ending July 7, the National Weather Service in Albany reported 1.29 inches of rain, a half-inch above normal for that time frame. For the season, precipitation is almost eight inches above normal.

Some showers produced flash flooding across portions of the Mohawk River Valley, the Finger Lakes Region, and western New York. The worst flash flooding continued to be across the western Mohawk Valley and central New York.

“It has been especially tough on the corn and soybean growers throughout much of the state as well as farmers growing hay,” said Steve Ammerman, New York Farm Bureau spokesman. “In some cases, farmers weren’t able to finish all their planting or got it in so late, the quality will be diminished. This will also impact the bottom line for farmers who grow their own animal feed, but now may have to purchase feed.”

Fortunately for Jacob Schieferstine, his farm still has some corn left over from last year.

“We’re trying to make it stretch,” he said.

However, it’s almost inevitable that the Schieferstines will have to buy some feed.

State officials have applied to the federal government for disaster aid in the hardest-hit areas, which can help farmers in need by opening up low-interest loans and governmental/technical assistance to get them through a tough time.

“Certainly, the Farm Service Agency is asking farmers to keep good records of their losses which could help ensure the state’s farmers get any assistance they may need,” Ammerman said.

The Farm Service Agency office that covers Warren, Washington and Saratoga counties in eastern New York has applied for a federal disaster declaration, based on projections that farms in that area are expected to lose 35 percent of their crops this year. If approved, farmers could apply for government loans, which they could use to buy feed to get their herds through the winter.

The unusually wet conditions are also a grave concern for vegetable growers faced with the possibility of blight, which can wipe out tomato and potato crops in a short amount of time. In addition, the prevailing south-to-north moist weather pattern could bring in insects that aren’t common to this part of New York, although there have been no such documented cases yet.

John Hand, owner of Hand Melon Farm in Greenwich, Washington County, said he’s benefited this summer from the reduced-tillage corn planting system his farm adopted several years ago. With conventional plowing and discing, the loose soil between rows of corn gets compacted by heavy tractors, he said.

With a reduced-tillage system, corn is planted at the top of mechanically-made slots and water between rows has a place to run, instead of laying on the compacted layer, Hand said.

Also, he has the advantage of fairly sandy soil, which helps with drainage, although a roughly 200-foot section at the far end of a vegetable field was briefly under water.

“We should grow out of it if we don’t get more torrential rains,” Hand said.

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