Rain, rain and … more rain
Small farmers struggle through
The last few weeks have brought an above normal amount of rain to the region. Home gardens are suffering from the excess. What about the small farmers in the area?
The Summerville Farmers Market is host to a number of farmers and their produce looks beautiful.
However, that is the produce that has made it to market.
“We have had to be very selective sorting through,” said Bernd Gronert of Cypress Hill Farm in Ridgeville.
“The heavy rains have created standing water, our blueberries have split and dropped off. Our peaches are okay but heavy rain can cause them to bruise and rot ... they split.”
The rains have killed their tomato plants in a day or two, said Gronert. The wet conditions bring on mildew and the tomatoes absorb too much water losing flavor and splitting or turning black.
“Our apricot tree … the leaves are just hanging we don’t know if we’ve lost it,” Said Gronert shaking his head.
Commercial famers carry insurance for just this sort of thing. But the cost is beyond most small farmer’s reach.
“We don’t have insurance,” Gronert said, “the cost is ski high.”
Gronert says he could lose as much as several thousand dollars because of the weather.
Mark Arena, lead extension agent for the Cooperative Extension in Dorchester says the excess water has increased disease pressure.
“It also makes it difficult to get into fields with equipment.”
Arena cites probable effects to soybeans, cotton as well. He notes that large farms will carry insurance and will most likely be filing claims.
Even crops that like water, such as corn, can only take so much he said. “Corn likes about an inch a week.”
“Cucurbits – like squash, cucumbers, cantaloupes, honeydew, will probably see a high level of downy mildew. Cantaloupe will be smaller.”
Gronert still has his fingers crossed for his fig trees. “Our figs, we’re hoping…they could all fall off but so far so good.”
Gronert is among the fortunate. Bobby Behr, who owns Behr Family Farm in Harleyville, with his wife Myra, tells a different story.
“Our tomatoes are all but wiped out,” he said. “When the leaves continue to get wet you get fungus and disease…most have died. Our cucumbers are wiped out; our squash …wiped out…we have an onset of powdery mildew, which is really troubling. If you spray and it rains you have wasted all that money.”
Behr is looking ahead though, and is in the middle of replanting for the fall crop.
The summer crop, he says, is now mostly weeds and stink bugs. “I am thinking about bagging up stink bugs and bringing them to market, there’s so many of them,” he laughed.
Behr has a forward outlook, which is a good thing. The rain has cost him “upwards of $15,000” this year. He doesn’t carry insurance, he said, because he puts his money into organics for his four-acre farm. Organic fertilizer, fungicide and insecticide costs three times what the non-organics cost, he said. He is one of the few organic stands at the farmers’ market.
Behr said he has heard other Community Supported Agriculture – CSAs have been completely wiped out by the rain.
“I had a customer Saturday,” he said, “who went to pick up his CSA and was told there was nothing…they [the farm} had lost everything.”
This, of course, is the gamble of a CSA – you buy into and share the gamble farmers take every season.
Behr’s 5,000 tomato plants, for example, should have yielded about 100,000 tomatoes he said. Instead, he got about a third of that before they died.