ADDISON COUNTY — Last week offered a reprieve from the wet weather that has soaked the region for much of the spring.
For some area farmers, however, the weather has already had an impact on the growing season, causing what the Vermont Agency of Agriculture is estimating is a three-week delay in planting for some producers.
Craig Miner, county executive for the USDA Farm Service Agency, said late last week that area farmers are holding their breaths for a drier end to the spring.
“There’s been no tilling, and very little corn has gone in,” he said. “The soils are saturated.”
Many of the large-scale grain and corn farmers in Addison County hope to begin spreading manure on their fields on April 1 each year, the earliest date allowed by state law. Manure-spreading must be completed before crops are planted.
But this year, said Miner, many of those farmers have put off this process due to the wet weather, putting them up to six weeks behind the ideal schedule.
“In general, the idea is to not spread until the majority of the runoff has already occurred,” he said during the peak of the flooding, late last month.
Cornwall dairy farmer John Roberts said last week was the first he’s seen neighbors out fertilizing their fields.
“Things are just starting to dry up,” he said.
Roberts said he was lucky this year and did not plan to plant any new alfalfa, which grows best in mild weather and generally must be planted in April or early May. But Miner said others in the county are watching their fields with bated breath.
“Time is running out on getting those new seedlings in,” he said.
Miner said that if the fields don’t continue to dry up, farmers will likely have to concentrate on corn or hay fields as they exist, and push the new alfalfa plantings off to late summer.
If that happens, said Miner, “essentially, they’ve lost any productive value on that land (this season).”
And the window of opportunity for corn and grains is also closing quickly.
“Last year, some farmers were able to get their crops in as late as May 15, but they still need a week of dry weather to be able to work their fields,” said Heather Darby of the University of Vermont Extension Service in a press release.
For smaller vegetable operations, however, the prognosis is less grim. Judy Stevens of Golden Russet Farm in Shoreham estimated that her crops were running only about a week behind, especially since many of the plants were started in the greenhouse.
“It’s been cold, so things have come out a little later,” Stevens said last week. “It’s been a definite slow start, but we’ve managed to get some plowing done in between wet spells.”
Stevens said her land is well-drained, so last week’s clear weather allowed it to dry out, for the most part.
“If we get back on track at this point, which appears to be happening, I think that everything will be fine, and that we’ll play catch-up,” she said.
Farmers across the state are hoping for a continuation of last week’s dry, warm weather. Miner said the next week will likely spell the difference between getting back on track and a season of reduced yields.
“It’s the million-dollar question,” he said. “Everything’s not lost, by any means, but it’s making a lot of people nervous.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at firstname.lastname@example.org.