Heavy rains hurt county farmers
By KATHRYN FLAGG
ADDISON COUNTY — Rain, rain, go away.
That’s the refrain taken up this summer by farmers and gardeners around the county, as heavier than normal rainfall in June drowned out some efforts at summer planting and harvesting.
The National Weather Service in Burlington tallied 5.25 inches of precipitation last month — nearly 2 inches more than the normal June rainfall, said meteorologist Jessica Neiles.
And the outlook for the months ahead isn’t much better. The NWS’s climate prediction center is calling for above average rainfall in the Northeast in both their one- and three-month forecasts.
Last week, that heavy rainfall meant that Suzanne Young and some of the farmhands at Singing Cedars Farmstead in Orwell were pulling their garlic up several weeks early.
Some of the bulbs were rotting in the ground.
The weeds are getting ahead of the organic farmers, who provide vegetables to their CSA customers, farmers’ markets around the county, and some wholesale accounts at the Middlebury Natural Food Co-op and American Flatbread. And Young said her farm’s more delicate plants are definitely struggling under all of the rain.
“I don’t want to sound too doom and gloom, but it’s definitely slowing down a lot of our harvesting,” Young said.
Another unexpected consequence of the rain, Young went on, is the inactivity of pollinators like honeybees. The bees don’t fly on rainy days, she said, which means that some of the farm’s summer and winter squash have gone under-pollinated.
But Young and her husband, Scott Greene, are taking the weather in stride. On the bright side, the couple has three hoop houses — or greenhouses — on their farm. Back when the couple started farming their Orwell spread six years ago, Young said, the hoop houses were part of the plan for summers exactly like this one.
“We know the weather’s going to be tricky. We planned on having weather events that would be hard to handle,” Young said. “We wanted to have an environment that we can control a little bit more.”
But corn and hay don’t grow in hoop houses — which means this summer’s rain has been a burden for many dairy farmers in the county. That comes after a winter when most conventional dairy farmers struggled under federally set milk prices that paid them less than the cost of production for their milk.
“(The weather) automatically adds insult to injury with that’s going on financially,” said Bill Scott, the president of the Addison County Farm Bureau. It’s discouraging for farmers to want to get out in their fields to chip away at their work — only to have heavy rains make working their fields impossible.
Scott said that for some farmers working clay soil, the planting still isn’t finished. What corn is in the ground is doing poorly.
In Addison, the Gosliga family got their corn in about two weeks ago — a month late. The late planting and uncooperative weather means the Gosligas might not get the yield they usually count on, which could mean adding the expense of purchasing additional grains to their already strapped budget.
“It’s really tight right now,” said Jeff Gosliga, who milks about 500 cows on the family farm. “The money’s really tight right now … We’re trying to be as efficient as possible so we can still do well, hopefully. ”
The wet weather has also meant many farmers are behind schedule on their haying. Mike Eastman, a dairy farmer in Addison, is an “old fashioned” farmer — he puts his hay into small, square bales.
This year, he’s only put up 300 of the 14,000 bales he typically cuts.
Meanwhile, in Cornwall, dairy farmer John Roberts has had to abandon plans to plant 20 acres of sudan, an annual grass he uses for feed. Every time he’s gotten the ground ready for planting, he said, the rain has made work impossible. Now he plans to let that ground lay fallow until the fall.
The longer hay goes unmowed, Scott explained, the less nutrient-rich it is. That means milk production goes down for dairy farmers, or that farmers have to supplement their feed with other, pricier, forms of nutrients and protein.
“When you start buying protein mix, it’s expensive,” Scott said.
But farmers like Young, Gosliga, and Eastman try to stay upbeat about the weather. After all, Young said, it’s something farmers can’t control. She, for one, is just hoping for a little bit of sunshine.
“If it gets sunny, things could rock and roll for a little while,” Young said.
“As long as we get enough sunshine, enough dry weather, we should be OK,” he said.