Farms in the area are trying to resist the rain
No living thing can survive without water. But an abundance of it can wreak havoc on plants, especially crops that farmers depend on for their income.
Almost eight inches of rain fell on Greenfield between July 1 and July 14, and the rest of Franklin and Hampshire counties were not spared from the heavy rainfall. Local farmers said the rainfall is just one more hurdle to overcome and is the opposite of another ordeal – drought.
Ryan Voiland, owner of Red Fire Farm in Montague with his wife Sarah, said the rain had caused major problems.
â€œThings were going pretty well this year until about 10 days ago, when it started to rain torrentially again and again,â€ he said Thursday afternoon. “He went from looking great on the pitch to being oversaturated.”
Voiland said its fields with less than perfect drainage are in big trouble. He estimated that a third of his fall carrots, planted while they were still germinating, are underwater and will need to be abandoned.
â€œIt’s like a swamp right now,â€ he said, adding that many of his tomato plants are damaged.
Farm properties in Sunderland and Granby are experiencing similar problems, Voiland added.
He said that outside of harvest, heavy rains create a lot of mud, which hinders tractors, and large puddles make it impossible to destroy weeds. He also said his irrigation pond is overflowing and his irrigation pumps near the Connecticut River were submerged in water when the river overflowed. He said he thought the pumps could be fixed, but it’s yet another project added to the list.
Voiland said the rain would likely cause a yield reduction of 5 to 10 percent.
“There is no insurance that will help us with this sort of thing,” he said.
David Wissemann, who runs Warner Farm in Sunderland with his father, Mike, said his business has probably suffered less than others in the area, but heavy rains have delayed the harvest of some crops.
â€œWhen it’s super dry, you can always add water – you can’t take it off,â€ he said.
Warner Farm’s primary fall crop is the Corn Maze, in reference to the 8-acre Mike’s Maze which is a popular fall attraction. The maze was affected because its design carved into the cornfield by Rob Stouffer, of Precision Mazes in Lee’s Summit, Mo. – was delayed for at least a week. Her family was literally able to weather the storm because in 2018 they acquired the Millstone Farm Market across the street. This provided a constant, unaffected stream of income.
The heavy precipitation can be attributed to both the passage of Hurricane Elsa and general tropical humidity from the south, according to Bill Leatham, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Norton. He said the rain had hit much of New England, although the southeastern part of Massachusetts actually experiences a mild drought, as the west side of a storm typically contains more precipitation, while the east side is experiencing more wind.
Leslie Harris, the manager of the Quonquont farm in Whately, said at the start of the season she expected a drought similar to last year, when just over three inches fell in Greenfield during the first two weeks of July.
â€œI was starting to worry because (the property is) not irrigated,â€ she said. â€œAnd now all of a sudden the rain won’t stop, it seems. The good news is that our rain barrels (which she had from last year’s drought) are full, if it ever stops.
Harris said the heavy rainfall puts a lot of stress on all plants, although more mature trees do better because they have longer roots. The orchard cultivates peaches, strawberries and blueberries. She said harvesting is a wet task but “it’s better than having a drought”.
Voiland, Wissemann and Harris said perhaps the biggest concern about excess water is the disease and the plagues it can cause. Voiland carefully searches for fungal and bacterial diseases that can easily be spread.
Wissemann said aquatic mold can devastate crops like tomatoes, peppers, melons, cucumbers and winter squash, and he’s started to see a certain guy infiltrating some of his fields. But, he said, Warner Farm is not an organic operation, which means workers can spray chemicals to keep mold at bay. Organic farms, however, cannot do this and “nothing organic can stop it.”
Harris said his biggest challenge was to avoid the diseases that humidity can cause in plants.
â€œYou can’t control the weather, so you get around it,â€ she said. â€œI hope things come together and we always have a great harvest season. “