At corn-planting time in May, Larry DeVoe said the soil was the driest he could remember in his 83 years, thanks to a dry spring.
Then it rained in June, but July and August turned hot and dry, and that’s impacting crop yields. DeVoe said the quality of corn now being harvested is excellent, but the yield may be as little as 25 percent of normal. Cucumbers, melons and now pumpkins may see half their normal yields.
“That’s the way it is. That’s Mother Nature,” said DeVoe, whose family owns DeVoe Rainbow Orchards in Halfmoon, which has been in business since 1896.
The Capital Region isn’t exactly seeing a California-style drought, but still, rain has been sparse enough this year that farmers throughout the area have been declared eligible for federal drought disaster aid to cover crop losses.
The problems don’t seem to be widespread, though weather records show the area north of Albany has seen less rain than the rest of the region.
“Certainly we’ve had dry conditions over the last months, but I haven’t heard of any serious issues,” said Steve Ammerman, a spokesman for the New York Farm Bureau.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared that farmers in Saratoga, Washington and Rensselaer counties are eligible for assistance in a “primary disaster area” due to damages and losses caused by an ongoing drought condition that has existed since June 1. Farmers in the contiguous counties of Schenectady, Montgomery and Fulton also qualify for aid, as do some in southern Vermont and western Massachusetts.
The declaration was issued Sept. 9, just days before a weekend storm brought the region its first prolonged soaking rain in weeks.
“July and August were dry north of Albany, but it was a short-term problem,” said Kevin Lipton, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albany.
But 50 miles north, Lipton said, Glens Falls has received 19.13 inches of rain since January, about two-thirds of what it normally sees. Albany, on the other hand, is only about 1.5 inches below what it receives in an average year.
The federal declaration makes farmers eligible for low-interest loans from the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, if they can show that they’ve suffered crop losses.
Kirk Schoen, a farm business, field crop and dairy agent with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Saratoga County, said many farms saw low hay yields in the spring, anywhere from 10 percent to as much as 40 percent below normal.
“There are some farmers who have severe shortages in hay crops,” he said. “There’s that possibility with the corn and some of the late crops now coming in.”
Northumberland dairy farmer Willard Peck said the first hay cutting in the spring was small, and corn is so far showing a “mixed yield.” He was unaware of the disaster declaration.
DeVoe said whether his business will seek government will depend on what assistance is available and what rules are set for the aid.
The New York declaration appears to be an isolated instance of drought in the eastern part of the United States. The entire western quarter of the country, from western Montana to California, is under an extended drought that has impacted agriculture and water supplies, and lead to dramatic wildfire conditions throughout that region.
The drought disaster declaration was one of three disaster declarations issued for New York counties Sept. 9. Under the others, farmers in Schoharie County can qualify for assistance based on frost damage this spring that primarily occurred in areas including nearby Ulster County, and those in Warren and Washington counties can qualify for assistance based on damages done by heavy storms this spring that primarily affected central New York and the Adirondacks.
“We’re telling New York producers that USDA stands with you and your communities when severe weather and natural disasters threaten to disrupt your livelihood,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.
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