April 19, 2014

Soggy weather hurts local farmers

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Flooding at Adams Orchard in Williston as a result of the soggy start to the summer. (Observer photo by Stephanie Choate)

Flooding at Adams Orchard in Williston as a result of the soggy start to the summer. (Observer photo by Stephanie Choate)

By Heleigh Bostwick

Observer correspondent

July 11, 2013

With 8.74 inches of rainfall recorded in Burlington, the month of May officially became the wettest May on record, eclipsing the previous record set in 2011 by a mere 0.07 inches.

Although no records were set in June, the soggy weather continued throughout the month and, so far, July is shaping up to be just as wet.

“There’s water everywhere,” said Mike Fontaine, whose North Williston farm borders the Winooski River, which overflowed its banks yet again last Friday. “We usually have sweet corn by the third week in July,” he said, explaining that the corn he planted back in May is stunted from being waterlogged. “This year, we’ll be lucky if we have any by September.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Mike Isham over at Isham Family Farm on Oak Hill Road.

“Farmers can’t catch a break,” he said as he tried to figure out a way to access his lumber pile while avoiding ankle-deep mud behind the sugarhouse, a renovation project he’s had plenty of time for with all of the rain.

“I’m trying to be creative,” he said. “The weather this year is a really big problem. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it so bad.”

Isham—who grows corn, pumpkins, and Christmas trees, along with blueberries and raspberries—said the Christmas trees are doing well, but not much else is, including the blueberries and raspberries, which typically start to ripen during the first week in July.

“The plants are loaded with berries, but they need sun to ripen,” he said. Raspberries have not fared as well. “All this rain has stunted their growth and the berries are smaller than usual,” he said. “And,” he wryly observed, “No one wants to go picking in the rain.”

Lisa Boutin, owner of Boutin Family Farm, agreed about the raspberries. “The canes are much shorter this year,” she said, adding that the strawberry season was a disaster.

“The berries just rotted from all the rain and the ones that did make it were too saturated with water to have much flavor.” Many vegetable crops are smaller than normal for this time of year. “The ground is just too saturated,” she said.

Sabrinajoy Milbury, who owns Just Dancing Gardens & Greenhouse and leases land on the Isham property for her greenhouse, also expressed frustration with the weather.

“We grow our own annuals and carry a nice selection of Vermont-grown perennials and shrubs, but nobody wants to plant flowers and work outdoors in this weather,” she said.

“It’s definitely impacted sales. Customers don’t come shopping when it’s pouring rain and some days I’ve had to close the greenhouse because of thunder and lightning.”

Over at Adams Apple Orchard and Farm Market on Old Stage Road, greenhouse manager and owner Kim Antonioli said the heavy rains haven’t affected the apple trees.

“Historically, some sections of the orchards were wetter, but we’ve learned not to plant trees there anymore.”

The ice cream window, though, which opened in May, has definitely been affected by the grey weather.

“It’s our first season and we hoped for a better beginning,” she said. “Fortunately, the rain hasn’t kept the neighborhood kids from riding their bikes over and eating their ice cream under the covered porch.”

“A lot of people are struggling worse than us,” Antonioli said. “We’re lucky that we’re on a slope and water drains away. We’re doing OK.”

Ron Paquette at Paquette Full of Posies said that, overall, business has been all right for them, too. “We grow a lot of ornamental plants, annuals, flowers, vegetables, shrubs and trees,” he said. “Many of our plants are grown in the greenhouse so they’re under cover.”

Even so, he observed that the humidity and cloudy conditions have made it more labor intensive to keep them in top condition.

“I can’t complain, but I’m surrounded by cornfields and I know it’s been pretty devastating for them,” he said.

“Dairy farmers have already experienced a lot of crop failures with stunted, yellow corn,” said Larry Parker of the Farm Service Agency. “Many grain crops and soybeans never got into the ground because it was too wet and at this point it’s too late.” Parker said he’s also getting a lot of calls about crop failure from commercial vegetable growers in Chittenden County.

On the flip side is hay. The rain doesn’t stop grasses from growing, but when the ground is soggy the hay can’t be harvested because the heavy equipment sinks into the ground.

“As grasses mature they become less nutrient rich and farmers want quality over quantity,” explained Bob Parsons, an agricultural economist with the extension service at UVM. “It’s getting to a really critical point,” said Parsons. “If we don’t start getting some sun it’s going to be a major disaster.”

With corn prices driven up by ethanol, many farmers are wondering what they’ll feed their cows this winter.

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