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Berry farmers get by despite soggy weather

Berry farmers get by despite soggy weather

While the seemingly constant rain might not have people racing to build an ark, it did have local fa

While the seemingly constant rain might not have people racing to build an ark, it did have local farmers worrying about strawberries, blueberries and other crops.

Kevin Bowman, owner of Bowman Orchards in Clifton Park, said the strawberry crop is basically done. He had expected to harvest strawberries through July 4, and they just made that goal. Although business was very close to last year, he said it could have exceeded it with better weather.

“They were affected by too much rain. They just tend to rot in the field. We didn’t have a lot of sun,” he said.

It was also difficult to get people out into the field to pick. But because a lot of the storms came late in the day, workers at least were able to harvest, Bowman said.

Fortunately, Bowman said, the raspberries, peaches, blueberries and apples are not affected in this wet weather. And while he said he would prefer it be a little drier, he’s not complaining: “I also know several growers that were far worse off than we were.”

Peter Ten Eyck, owner of Indian Ladder Farms in New Scotland, also said his strawberries took a pretty big hit because of the weather: “They mature and they rot.”

Now it’s on to blueberries, and he is looking forward to apple season. He will also have some strawberry picking in the fall.

Other fruits have thrived in this climate.

BLUEBERRIES BENEFIT

“It’s amazing. The blueberries are huge,” said Susan Knapp, who co-owns Hicks Orchard in Granville with her husband, Dan Wilson.

Bigger does not necessarily mean better, however. “When fruit is pumped up with water, the sizes may be big, the flavor goes down. When it’s a dry year and the fruit is small, there’s more flavor.”

One bonus of the rain is that Knapp has not needed to irrigate. She usually requires about an inch of rain a week for her crops.

“Without irrigation, if it’s a normal year, the fruit would be very small,” she said.

National Weather Service meteorologist Tom Wasula said Albany airport had received 3.8 inches of rain this month as of Thursday, which already exceeds the average amount of rainfall for the entire month — about 3.5 inches.

June was especially wet, with 5 inches of rain — nearly 4 inches above normal. He attributed the rainfall to slow-moving disturbances in the upper levels of the atmosphere.

Winney’s Farm in Bacon Hill in the town of Northumberland also got away with no irrigation this season. Owner Byron Winney said he is thankful that the farm did not receive any hail.

The blueberry crop is in good shape.

“Blueberries do like water. Although I would say that this is excessive, it didn’t hurt us,” he said. “If we don’t get a lot more rain, they’ll be fine.”

Winney said it takes about four to six years to get a decent blueberry crop: “Some of them we planted 35 years ago.”

The farm has about 18 varieties of blueberries, and he tries to stagger the crop “so eventually we’ll be picking berries from the Fourth of July to Labor Day.”

His workers started picking on July 3, and they expect to continue until mid-August. The farm has open picking seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

EXPLODING CHERRIES

Winney said he just installed a new drainage system, which also helps. However, he worried that if the wet weather persists, it could be a problem for other fruits: “Cherries, when they get wet like this, tend to swell up and explode.”

Knapp said she has not experienced cherry rot yet.

“If we do continue to get a lot of rain, they’ll split right open and rot on the tree. Hopefully, we haven’t reached that point yet, knock on wood.”

Keith Buhrmaster, president of Buhrmaster Farms in Glenville, is worried about raspberries.

“Once they start to get ripe, they have to be picked every day,” he said. He said he sends out crews between the showers.

“The biggest problem is you can’t get into the fields to pull the weeds and stuff. It has to dry out,” he said.

Buhrmaster said he has been able to work around most of the wet spots. The farm has shut down the pick-your-own strawberries but his workers are still picking.

Ten Eyck said he is lucky that he has deep soil that drains well, for the most part. Some of his blueberries are in swampy conditions. Like Buhrmaster, Ten Eyck is concerned about raspberries, which he said can get moldy if the wet weather persists, and pears. His workers were cutting some fire blight, a bacterial infection, off the pear trees.

Many farmers are also keeping an eye out for late blight on tomatoes, Ten Eyck said.

“Tomatoes cannot stand a lot of continuous high humidity and moisture. They’re going to get one disease or another,” he said. The best farmers can do is use a copper spray on the tomato plants and prevent a fungus from getting started: “Once it gets going, it’s a killer.”

Knapp said she has not had any problems so far with fungus or mold.

And Wasula said relief from the rain may be on the way: he said he’s seeing signs of more summerlike whether over the next week.

Buhrmaster said that with all of this moisture, the crops should be ready to “take off” with a stretch of good weather.

“It’s all sitting there. Being cold, it just doesn’t want to grow,” he said.

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