May 7, 2011
Rain slows spring crop plantings
Farmers work to make up ground as dry weather finally arrives
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
John Diescher takes advantage of the sunny weather Friday to work a 10-acre plot of land off Route 11 in Cortlandville just outside Cortland after wet weather recently soaked the region. Rain has slowed the work of farmers planting crops.
Around this time last year, Cortlandville farmer John Diescher already had planted 200 acres of corn.
As of today, he only has planted 45 acres.
“This time last year, I was looking at finishing,” he said. “Now I’m looking at starting.”
Diescher and other local farmers are dealing with persistent rainfall that has stalled the beginning of the growing season, putting them behind schedule.
“We’re going to have to be creative,” said Diescher, who intends to plant 700 acres of corn this season. “We’re going to be extra busy. We’ll be working a lot of 20-hour days, seven days week, working as long as we can keep our eyes open.”
Janice Degni, a crop and soil specialist at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County, said the wet ground prevents farmers from preparing soil for this season’s crops.
“The ground is so wet, you can’t spread manure or till it,” Degni said. “It’s just persistent rain. Nobody can do much.”
Degni said Cortland has had relatively good weather over the last four years. She said the weather could affect both the quality and quantity of the products farmers produce.
She said the wet conditions can affect the sugar-content of hay and the amount of time it takes corn to mature.
“Next week, if the rain stops, I think we’ll be OK,” Degni said. “Everybody’s stressed out. It’s definitely a headache.”
Ithaca had its second wettest April with 7.31 inches of rain. Syracuse had record April rain with 8.53 inches, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University.
The National Weather Service did not have rainfall totals for Cortland. Hydrometeorologist Joanne LaBounty, of the National Weather Service in Binghamton, said Central New York saw several active weather patterns last month.
She said the area saw heavy rainfall and winds last week as the weather system that caused tornadoes in Alabama and Mississippi worked its way up the Northeast.
“Anytime you’re talking about (rainfall totals) in the top five, it’s not typical,” LaBounty said.
LaBounty said the short-term forecast looks relatively clear until late next week, when another system of rain might come through the area.
Diescher started planting sweet corn on April 15, but has had to halt work because of constant rain.
He said he will start working his dry fields as he waits for the soggier fields to dry.
“It’s tough, but some areas are drying up faster,” Diescher said. “We’ve been going full blast to catch up.”
Other local farms have also been affected by the weather.
“It’s not just the rainfall, it’s the cold,” said David Dahle, co-owner of Brookside Berry Farm in Freeville.
Dahle longingly remembered last year’s 80-degree days in April. He said strawberries grow best in warm, sunny weather.
Dahle said the strawberry farm usually opens between June 9 and June 19. He said he was not sure when it would open this year, but that it would probably be closer to the later date.
“The rain keeps you from going into the field,” Dahle said.
Don Reed said farmers at the Reed farm on Route 215 are late in planting crops. He said employees on the 265-acre farm have had to throw out between 80 and 90 percent of transplant crops, like broccoli and cauliflower, because the soil is not ready for planting.
Reed said farmers started planting in March last year. This year, they have had to wait until May.
“Yields will be down,” Reed said. “It’s going to make everything late.”
He said farmers generally look to plant their crops as efficiently as possible. This year they are just looking to find land that is dry enough.
“It makes for a lot of frustration,” Reed said.
On Friday, Diescher began preparing a field for 10 acres of sweet corn on Route 11. He hopes the dreary days of April are behind him.
“We’ve got sun,” Diescher exclaimed Friday morning.
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