County growers edge toward close of wet season

ADDISON COUNTY — As frost rolls in over the Champlain Valley, farmers and home gardeners in the county are beginning to take stock of what has been, for many, a disappointing growing season.
“It’s been very, very, very wet,” said Bill Scott, president of the Addison County Farm Bureau.
In fact, as of Sept. 30, preliminary precipitation totals from the National Weather Service this year add up to 44.2 inches in Burlington, making 2011 already the fifth wettest year on record.
Craig Miner, county executive for the USDA Farm Service Agency, said 3,000 acres in the county were simply too wet to plant in the wake of flooding last spring.
Most who did get crops into the ground planted late, after the ground dried out, and much of the county’s feed corn is still in the fields. Thanks to the warm fall weather, many of the crops on a late schedule have had time to fully mature, but farmers are still waiting for the soil to dry out enough to run harvesting machinery.
“You can almost bet there’s going to be some trouble getting the corn off the land,” said Scott.
Scott, a vegetable and fruit grower himself, said most of his crops are finished, and his tomatoes surrendered to late blight spurred on by the wet weather.
But Jill Kopel, who owns the New Leaf Organics farm in Bristol, said her growing season was not as bad as it has been for some.
“Some things have really loved all the water,” she said. “We have great carrots and great onions.”
Kopel said her tomatoes and flowers also flourished, but she’s not as sure about her winter squash, which sat in rainwater for some time.
But she said she’s counting her blessings.
“Overall, it’s turned out to be a fairly decent season,” she said. “I’m grateful that we didn’t get flooded out.”
Kopel said that with a shift in weather patterns brought on by climate change, she’s expecting to have to adapt to increasingly wet years.
“I think we just have to get ready for this new trend,” she said. “This is going to be the new deal for growing in Vermont.
It will take some time for farmers to evaluate exactly how much of a toll this year’s weather took on production this year, but Miner said farmers should already be thinking about assistance for damage or crop losses.
So far, he said, 35 farms in the county have reported some kind of damage from Tropical Storm Irene. And unlike in other counties, much of the late-season damage from Irene came from flooding and wind damage, meaning few fields and buildings experienced permanent damage.
“We were very, very fortunate,” Miner said.
As a result, many farmers will go through their crop insurance agents to find out what assistance they are eligible for, and some may also apply to the Vermont Farm Disaster Relief Fund, run by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture in partnership with the Vermont Community Foundation.
Miner said farmers whose land experienced more than $1,000 in erosion or similar damage are eligible to apply for funds through the Emergency Federal Conservation Program through the FSA office. After the application goes through, the farmers must follow federal guidelines in making repairs in order to access aid.
Miner said funding for the program is currently being negotiated in the U.S. Congress. The amount of funding isn’t certain since Tropical Storm Irene hit near the end of a fiscal year that saw a number of other disasters.
But he is hopeful that the money will come through, and said he encourages anyone who has experienced damage to file an application with the FSA office.
All in all, Miner said many farmers are already looking forward to next season.
“I had one producer today say, ‘I’ll be glad to see 2011 come to a close,’” he said.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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