The dry spring — the driest since 1941 — has forced many farmers in the state to irrigate crops almost around the clock.
The lack of rain, which is currently classified as a moderate drought, has prompted growers like Kevin Bowman of Bowman Orchards in Rexford and John Hand of Hand Melon Farm in Greenwich to continuously irrigate their fields.
“We basically irrigate everything, and we have been pumping 24/7 for about a week or so,” Bowman said.
Hand explained that while they are fortunate to have good irrigation systems at times like these, the constant irrigation has created a lot more work, and with it a financial concern.
“It certainly is a financial drain as there is a fair amount of fuel involved in pumping water,” Hand said.
He said that in addition to water needed to irrigate crops, water is also needed to keep crops from freezing at night, especially in spring, when overnight temperatures can drop near freezing.
Hand said the soil must also be damp in order to apply plastic mulch, which covers the surface of the soil and regulates soil temperature and moisture. He said this has been difficult in the dry weather and means he must employ even more irrigation.
Despite the constant irrigation, Bowman said he and other growers can only do so much to counteract the effects of the drought.
“Although we irrigate, we cannot overcome Mother Nature,” Bowman said
Bowman explained that crops like apples will not be as greatly affected by the drought because apple trees have much deeper roots than most and can draw water from deeper in the ground. Hand said crops closer to harvest, like strawberries, are more susceptible to drought conditions.
Despite the need for water, Bowman said at this point in the growing season, drier weather is preferable for new berry crops, as it limits the chance of fungal diseases that can destroy them. He said the berries will require more water later on, but for now the drier weather is working in his favor.
Both Bowman and Hand said the drought is less a problem than other forms of severe weather, as some crops will actually benefit from it.
“A couple of years ago we had 17 inches of rain in June, and nothing likes that,” Bowman said.
Farmers are not the only people affected by the drought. Colie Collen, owner of Flower Scout, a Troy flower company, said she is having to buy flowers to meet her orders, as she has been delayed in planting by the dry weather and the lack of an irrigation system. She says this late start makes her very nervous about how the rest of the year will look.
“For me this late start just makes everything else unpredictable,” said Collen.
Collie said she believes growers in the area can no longer rely on rain as they once did and must instead look to irrigation systems more and more for their water.
Aaron Gabriel, an educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension, said the drought has affected farmers across the state, especially those who do not have irrigation systems. He said that for farmers who harvest crops like corn and hay, which have less value, an irrigation system is simply not a sound investment.
According to Kevin Lipton of the National Weather Service, thunderstorms are in the forecast this afternoon, but these will most likely not provide enough rainfall or be widespread enough to end the drought.