Farmers used to call it “poor man’s fertilizer.”
The mid-spring snow reviled by the winter-weary and prone to falling in the Capital Region is actually welcomed by some in agriculture. Snow, provided it’s not accompanied by a prolonged freeze, tends to have a positive impact on crops.
Keith Buhrmaster of Buhrmaster Farms in Scotia saw this impact firsthand this year. He planted sweet peas and corn during a warm spell earlier this month, only to watch his fields get covered with a couple inches of snow last week.
“I was surprised it even germinated,” he said Sunday. “But it did, and it looks like it’s going to make it.”
Snow brings water and nitrogen back into the soil. Though rain brings more of both, snow offers a time-release mechanism that can help plants, explained Peter Geiger, editor of the Farmers’ Almanac, in a column on the subject.
“What probably makes snow good for the soil is that it feeds nitrogen into the soil at a slower and more even rate ... than a thunderstorm, which delivers precipitation at a more rapid rate,” he wrote.
The snow and accompanying cold weather this spring did set back farmers like Buhrmaster, who estimated he’s about two weeks behind schedule. But if the weather remains seasonally warm, he’s confident the delay won’t have any lasting impact on his operation.
“If the weather holds and if it stays warm, [the crops] will catch right up,” he said. “If we can keep temps at about 65 degrees, it’ll catch right up.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s crop progress report released last week indicated that the improved weather has helped farmers in New York, but that many fields are still too wet for work. Farmers in some of the southern counties are plowing, but the majority are still waiting for the right conditions, according to the report.
“With the nice weather, farmers are eager to get out into the fields but the melting snow and rain has caused fields to be saturated with water and unable to be plowed or planted,” the report states. “If this weather keeps up, the next two weeks should be busy ones for farmers.”
Warmer weather has brought fruit trees in some parts of the state close to green tip — the stage of growth when the buds are broken at the tip and green tissue is visible. The higher temperatures, however, are also bringing to a close the maple syrup season, which got off to a slow, late start due to the cold weather and heavy snowfall this winter.
For Buhrmaster, the rest of April will be a busy with the work he couldn’t do earlier in the month — making sure cold-weather crops are in the ground. Then it’s a 50-day wait to harvest. “Until then, you kind of got to just go with the flow,” he said.