Wet spring plagues farmers

ADDISON COUNTY — For farmers across the state, the wettest spring on record is causing setbacks and difficulties. And while the past week brought some drier weather, the heavy clay soils in Addison County continue to do what they do best: hold water.
“Addison County is having one of the hardest times in the state,” said Heather Darby of the University of Vermont Extension.
Loren Wood of Woodnotch Farm in Shoreham said the window for planting corn is closing quickly.
“Last year, the corn was planted by May 16,” he said.
On May 31, he was just hoping for dry weather.
“We’re looking at three weeks behind on corn,” he said.
Most of the fields on Wood’s 1,500-acre dairy farm haven’t dried out enough to run heavy machinery over, and on the 73 acres he’s already seeded, recent rains have washed out parts. Even if the weather permits planting within the next week or so, he said, the peak planting time has already passed.
“In the past, I’ve planted corn until the Fourth of July,” he said. “I’d never do that again.”
Darby said farmers across the state are facing a similar quandary.
“Most of the corn is usually planted by now,” she said. “Right now, it’s less than 50 percent in the state.”
These crop delays have prompted some spur-of-the moment decisions.
“Some farmers are switching out varieties, going from full-season to short-season corn,” she said.
The wet weather hasn’t stunted all crops — Darby said grass and hay yields have been huge this year.
But, Addison County Farm Bureau President Bill Scott said most farmers haven’t been able to get machinery onto the fields and harvest it yet, and the longer they wait, the more its value as cattle feed falls.
“Every day that (the farmers) can’t get hay off the fields, the protein drops and it becomes more and more mature,” he said.
Scott, a vegetable and fruit grower himself, said it’s been a disheartening season so far, and that some of the sweet corn he planted in mid-May has washed out.
And he said it’s taken a toll on the number of pollinators at work on his apple trees.
“Because of the weather, the bee population is down,” he said. “They don’t like to work in the wet weather any more than we do.”
Sue Evans of Marble Rose Farm in Middlebury said that the rain has taken a toll on her organic farming operation so far. But the temperature’s been much better than it was last May.
“We had a good season for asparagus,” she said.
And though the asparagus was later this year than last year, it actually turned out to be a good thing.
“The longer it takes to come out of the ground, the less chance of frost,” she said.
But the strawberries, which usually ripen in early June, are lagging about a week behind last year’s crop.
“There’s a serious threat now for the fungal diseases, because it was so wet during the bloom period,” she said.
This poses problems for an organic operation.
“(The bloom period) is where the conventional growers usually start to spray for gray mold. We have to find other ways,” Evans said.
The wet soil has delayed other crops as well.
“A lot of the annual crops need to be planted during the spring, but we can’t get out and work the soils,” she said.
Add to that the grass and weeds, which Evans said are flourishing.
“It’s really frustrating,” she said. “Overall, this has just been a terrible season.”
But last week brought some dry weather, and UVM’s Darby said most growers were taking full advantage.
“Everyone’s out there until dark,” she said. “It makes you do 10 days worth of work in one.”
And growers remain optimistic, hoping for moderate rains and a late fall.
“If we can get out on the fields, you’d be amazed at how quickly we can get things done,” said Scott. “It’s hard to know what Mother Nature’s going to deal you, but farmers are resilient, if nothing else.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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