The soggy summer is likely disappointing those who’ve been waiting for the warm season to begin, but for many farmers, incessant rainfall and periodic sunshine is turning into a disaster.
Gov. David Paterson is asking the federal government to declare more than a dozen New York counties agricultural disaster areas, including Albany, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie and Rensselaer.
The wet conditions are stunting the growth of crops, impeding work on fields and promoting the growth of diseases like late blight that’s wiping out tomatoes and potatoes in various parts of the state.
And in some cases, crops like fruits and vegetables are getting battered by hail.
State Agriculture and Markets Department spokeswoman Jessica Chittenden said it’s too early to gauge the amount of crop losses being experienced in the state, but the weather’s impact on agriculture is being felt throughout the East Coast, she said.
“It’s uncanny how rainy it’s been,” she said.
The region’s soils can generally handle a large amount of rainfall, Chittenden said, but the lack of consistent sunshine is making matters worse.
Sunshine helps dry out the fields and the plants themselves. Without it, pests, mold and diseases flourish.
The loss of sunshine stunts the growth of plants, and in the case of fruits, it will likely reduce their sweetness, she said.
Some farmers were looking forward to cutting hay several times this season, but the weather has made that difficult, said Kevin Ganoe, a field crop specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension.
“With hay, it’s the fact that you’re looking to take a number of cuttings of hay in the summer to get decent quality. But people needed to delay getting into the field because they just couldn’t get into the field to harvest,” he said.
Tractors and other heavy machinery can tear up the fields and even get stuck when there is excessive moisture in the soil.
Farmers looking to cut hay when it’s dry also are experiencing difficulty, because there isn’t enough sunshine to dry it, Ganoe said.
“You need it dry so that it keeps,” he said.
Middleburgh farmer Phyllis Crewell, of the Crewell Brothers & Sons Dairy, said the rain has made some of her fields impassable to heavy machinery.
“We can’t [cut] hay. It’s absolutely impossible until it dries up out there,” Crewell said.
Some hay in the fields, she said, may not even be worth gathering because it’s been cut too late or because it’s wet.
“The value just isn’t there,” Crewell said.
The weather just adds more difficulty to dairy farmers who are earning less money for their milk than they spend producing it, she said.
“Earlier in the season it was something to grumble about. But the further you go on, the further behind you get. It’s getting pretty tough financially,” Crewell said.
Farmers growing corn are also facing trouble depending on whether their fields are holding standing water, Ganoe said.
“Corn does not like standing water,” he said.
Wetter fields also lose their nitrogen, a major nutrient, when the soils are saturated.
So some fields can be seen with tall green corn plants while others display shorter, less-healthy looking plants.
Farmers trying to stock up on food for their cows may end up having to buy feed or restrict their use of what they have, he said.
“They may have to ration it out a little bit,” Ganoe said.
Adding to difficulty in fields is the widespread incidence of late blight, a potato and tomato plant fungus that thrives in wet weather and has been identified on crops in numerous New York counties.
In the event the U.S. Department of Agriculture declares an agricultural disaster, farmers affected by the weather would be eligible for low-interest loans, according to a news release.