CAPITAL REGION — The summer’s varying weather has been challenging but not terribly damaging for the region’s farmers, so far.
David Holck, executive director of the USDA’s Farm Service office in Greenwich, said there have been times of too much heat and too little rain but nothing catastrophic such as hail or a sustained drought.
“It has been an interesting year,” he said.
So far this growing season, there has been the sixth-coldest April on record (average 41 degrees), the 20th-longest heat wave on record in July (six days), the longest-ever stretch of 80-degree days (44 days), a dry spell (mid-June to mid-July), and successive rounds of thunderstorms with localized deluges in the last month.
Holck said each of these conditions has had an impact, but none of those impacts has been severe, either alone or in combination with the others.
“Back in July, milk production dropped significantly,” he said. “What happens is the animals get so hot they don’t feel like eating.”
Cows prefer to stand in the shade and drink water when it’s really hot — which is actually a very sensible thing to do, but not a good strategy for producing a lot of milk.
Farmers also had trouble with their field crops in July but are benefitting from better weather lately, Holck said.
“Back in July, the counties that I deal with — Washington, Warren, Saratoga, Rensselaer — all were abnormally dry, and some were in moderate drought,” he said. “Since then, the situation has changed considerably.”
Rainfall totals are up in many areas, but not all and not evenly, Holck said, because much of the rain has come in thunderstorms that drench one town but bypass another town 10 miles away.
Another problem with thunderstorms is that the rain comes so hard and fast that some of the water runs off the field rather than soaking in, limiting the benefit to plants.
Holck said for many farmers in his coverage area, the first cutting of hay was average or a little less than average, the second was weak to non-existent, and the third was better and the fourth, underway now, is better yet.
“For the most part I think we’re going to be pretty good,” he said. The other end of the spectrum — frost — is an unknown number of days away. Autumn begins Sept. 22.
The Farm Service Agency office has not heard distress calls this summer from vegetable growers, many of whom have irrigation systems they can use if there’s no rain, Holck said.
Orchard owners and berry growers have not offered a single report of hail damage, which can devastate fruit crops, he added.
“So that’s a good thing … there seems to be a lot of local produce available.”
Looking beyond upstate New York, Holck said, one appreciates how much worse the summer weather could be for farmers and for everybody else. There have been no extended droughts, nor monster hailstones, nor epic wildfires, nor any 12-inch snowstorms — as happened in higher elevations in the European Alps this past weekend, right on the heels of a bad heat wave.
“It just seems in our climate we’ve got a lot to be thankful for,” Holck said. “But I’ll tell you this: The rain came at the right time.”