Wet summer frustrates local farmers (7/16/09)

July 16, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

During a rare sunny and warm spell on Monday, dairy farmer Waldo Siple Jr. looked to the skies while working on his 318-acre dairy farm.

“We could use more weather like this,” Siple said.

Unfortunately, the “weather like this” disappeared later in the day. Skies clouded over, temperatures dropped and rain fell in the early evening. In what’s proving to be an atypical summer season, the Northeast has been stuck in a rainy and cool rut that shows little sign of changing.

For some farmers and growers in Williston, the wet and cool weather is making life difficult.

Siple, who operates his dairy farm on South Road, wants to cut his fields for hay and feed for his cows soon. But wet conditions are delaying his work. And less feed slows down milk production, which begins to affect the bottom line.

Last year was also a rainy summer, but Siple was able to work around a lot of the wet weather, which often came in the form of heavy afternoon showers and thunderstorms. Siple said he was able to complete four cuts last year, which is normal for any growing season.

But this year he estimates he’ll be down to three cuts, thanks in part to the soaking rains of late June and July, which have kept his farmland consistently wet.

“The farm is a wet farm, anyways,” Siple said. “We don’t need a lot of rain to make it muddy.”

Rainfall, much like last summer, is above normal. The National Weather Service in Burlington measured June’s precipitation total at 5.25 inches — more than 1.5 inches above normal. Last year’s June totals are nearly the same as this year’s.

The rainfall for July is currently at nearly 2 inches. At this rate, precipitation could be above average, but below last year’s 7 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

Temperatures this summer, which have rarely hit 80 degrees, have been more akin to the weather of spring or fall. Some locations in Vermont experienced near record lows Tuesday evening, when temperatures dipped into the upper 30s.

While gardeners and growers haven’t struggled with watering their crops and gardens, they have worried about vegetables that need sunshine and heat to thrive.

Greg Beliveau of Goose Creek Farm in St. George said most of his crops are behind their normal seasonal schedule. Goose Creek is also a Community Supported Agriculture farm, meaning families buy shares at the beginning of the summer and pick up their vegetables on a weekly basis.

Beliveau hopes summer will turn itself around and everything will return to a normal schedule.

“Some of our crops need a certain amount of heat and we’re just not getting it,” Beliveau said.

The lack of consistent summer weather means his farm isn’t generating the cash flow of previous seasons.

“It’s definitely affecting finances, but we’ll march on,” Beliveau said.

At Paquette Full of Posies Nursery in Williston, the weather has proved to be a “mixed blessing.” Flowers and plants are growing well in the greenhouses, said co-owner Ron Paquette.

“Once they get outside, it’s a hard time for them to get by,” Paquette said.

On the bright side, Paquette said his perennials and shrubs are growing in abundance with the wet weather.

“It’s a little give-or-take in this business,” he said.

Still, his crop of mums is a little behind and could use some summer warmth. Paquette noted that last summer was equally rainy, but temperatures hovered in the 80s and sometimes low 90s — perfect mum growing weather.

“They’re looking OK, but they need the heat to get them to a size we want them to be,” Paquette said.

Master Gardener June Jones, who has a plot at the Williston Community Garden in Brennan Woods, said this summer hasn’t been too bad. She credits the garden’s sandy soil for allowing the rains to filter through and not puddle among the plants.

“One thing we haven’t had to do is water the garden,” Jones said.

For the most part, all the vegetables are on schedule and she planned to pick zucchini this week. Only the peppers, which need higher temperatures, were struggling.

Most agree there’s not much one can do about the weather, except to hope and pray that summer actually makes more than just a few token appearances.

“It’s kind of hard to predict Mother Nature,” Siple said.