Torrential Rains Damaging NY Crops

7/6/2013 7:00 AM
By Paul Post New York Correspondent

HALFMOON, N.Y. — It will be a good year if Lawrence DeVoe can salvage half of his 40 acres of vegetables.

Like many Northeast farmers, he’s suffering the consequences of unrelenting early summer rains that have flooded crops and brought on damaging fungus disease.

The National Weather Service in Albany reported 8.68 inches of precipitation in June, four times the 2.15 inches in June 2012. There was at least some rainfall on 19 out of 30 days last month, and this first week of July brought no reprieve as persistent thunderstorms and showers contributed to the moist, humid weather pattern.

A bipartisan group of U.S. House members this week wrote a letter to President Barack Obama, expressing support for a major disaster declaration following severe flooding on June 27 and 28.

“Half your vegetable crop is a pretty big hit,” said DeVoe, owner of DeVoe’s Rainbow Orchard in southern Saratoga County.

The only saving grace is that his farm also has a 40-acre apple orchard, which looks pretty good — so far. “We lost all of our potted cukes, summer squash and melon,” he said. “We lost some tomatoes.”

Also, because of wet fields, pumpkins were planted almost a month late, so instead of harvesting in September, they might not be ready for picking until early October, which means DeVoe has to be concerned about a September frost.

“We got all our sweet corn in,” DeVoe added. “It all came up, but some stalks are 18 inches high while others are only 4 inches. If it turns cold at night, I don’t know if those small stalks will ever develop. We’re just plain running out of time.”

For consumers who look forward to fresh local produce at farmers markets, some things might not be available in great supply later this summer.

“Our production is going to be down,” DeVoe said. “It could be 50 percent. It could be even more than that. It’s hard to predict. It all depends on the weather from here on out.”

For the third straight year, wet conditions in one form or another are wreaking havoc. In August/September 2011, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee devastated eastern and central parts of upstate New York.

Last fall, Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast.

This year’s problems, while perhaps not as intense, have certainly been more persistent. The unusual weather started on Memorial Day weekend, when torrential rains pummeled the region, accompanied by unusually cold temperatures that saw more than a foot of snow fall on higher elevations of New York and Vermont.

Most recently, New York state declared a state of emergency for Mohawk Valley communities impacted by the storms of June 27 and 28, which brought another round of widespread flooding to an area that’s still trying to recover from the near apocalyptic high waters of two years ago. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is seeking federal disaster relief.

On July 1, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., blasted House Republicans for refusing to pass the Farm Bill, which he said would give much-needed crop insurance to farmers who can’t get it otherwise. “There’s a small group in the House that doesn’t believe in helping people out with things like crop insurance,” he said during a visit to Glens Falls, N.Y. “I hope they get off those ways. When the hand of God strikes it’s very, very difficult for communities.”

During dry times, farmers can fight back by irrigating their fields. But when it comes to heavy rain, there’s no controlling Mother Nature’s fury, said Sue Beebe, assistant agriculture program leader for Saratoga County Cornell Cooperative Extension.

“There really needs to be a lot of drying time,” she said.

Her office has gotten reports of losses from all types of producers and growers.

“It doesn’t matter if you’ve planted new Christmas trees or field corn. Everybody’s affected,” Beebe said. “We’re seeing an abundance of fungal disease. Some growers have whole crops that had to be plowed under. There’s going to be real differences in crop availability. There might not be shortages, but supplies could be sporadic because of how rain has impacted the growing season.”

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