Rainy summer hampering farmers

If weather persists, may prove disasterous for crops, livestock

A cornfield off of Route 67 in the town of Mohawk on Saturday. (The Leader-Herald/Eric Retzlaff)

One of Pat Becker’s chicken coops has been flooded eight times, destroying it.

“My chickens have been wading out to me,” said the co-owner of Abbey Farms in Amsterdam.

Worse yet, Tanya Moyer of Mulligan Creek Acres in Sprakers said she’s lost 30 percent of her meat chickens because of persistent rains and chilly weather this spring and summer.

“It’s just a stressful condition for them,” she said.

Even though the rains generally have brought lush green pastures to their grazing animals, their problems may be just minor compared to even bigger trouble ahead for agriculture in Fulton, Montgomery and Hamilton counties.

If the rainy weather persists, “there could be a real disaster coming up for the farming industry as a whole,” warns Andy Michael, executive director of the Farm Service Agency of the U.S Department of Agriculture in the three counties.

The rains have made it harder for farmers to plant, harvest, and have good yields for such staple crops such as hay, corn and soybeans, and that indirectly hurts the dairy farmers, who rely on grains to feed their cattle, he said.

“It’s putting them [dairy farmers] in a pretty big hole,” Michael said.

Rain has set farmers behind in planting corn and soybeans and has stunted their crops’ growth, he said. More rain and an early fall frost could dramatically decrease the harvesting of the crops and their yield, he added.

Likewise, the rain has been inhibiting the cutting and mowing of hay and causing soil ruts that slow the mowing process and can damage farm equipment, he said.

All this puts dairy farmers in a bind because the cost of feed grains has gone up and the price of milk is low, Michael said.

Due to a persistent low-pressure area over the Great Lakes, this year’s rainfall average is higher than last year for April 1 through June 30-ranging from about 7 inches higher in the western areas of the area counties to 4 inches higher in the eastern, said Steve DiRienzo, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albany.

Because the rain followed snow that didn’t melt until April, “the ground never had a chance to dry out,” he said.

“There were also a lot of cloudy days,” reducing evaporation, he said.

Dave Clancy of Clancy Farms in Fort Plain said his corn is “just barely a foot high.”

The rain and cold nights have “pushed us back a good month,” he said.

Not all farms and crops are equally affected. Sandy soils will allow water to easily drain while clay soils will retain more water.

“The rain is good for the apple trees,” said Todd Rogers of Rogers Family Orchard in Johnstown. “I probably will have one of the best crops I ever had.”

Because his soil is fairly dry, he said he’s getting good results with blueberries, black raspberries, plums, pumpkins and squash.

Rain has been both a blessing and a curse for Wayne Conbeer of Conbeer’s Farm in Fonda.

Rain has refilled a depleted water table from a dry season last year, so he said he doesn’t have to irrigate plants such as strawberries and blueberries that are already in the ground. “They like the rain,” he said.

“But it’s hard to get crops in the ground,” he said. “The ground is not conducive to tilling.”

Conbeer also harvests hay for horses, but the rain has made it “very difficult to get the hay dry and put it away,” he said. “It’s taking me a long time to harvest it.”

Dave Balbian, the Cooperative Extension dairy specialist for a seven-county region, said, “It’s very hard for cows to produce milk with this late corn harvest. Some cornfields didn’t even get planted.”

Some diseases and insects increase as a result of rain and they annoy cows, reducing milk production, he said.

“The rain has caused the fly population to really explode,” causing not only annoyance to the animals but the increased spread of pink eye infections in cows, he said.

“Most dairy farms are probably in some area of the red,” Balbian said.

Companies that insure crops are getting “deluged with claims,” and insurance inspectors “have more calls than they have time for,” he said.

Crystal Stewart, Cooperative Extension’s regional vegetable specialist, said excessive rain can flush spring fertilizer from soil, inhibit bees from flying and pollinating plants, and increase weed growth.

“It’s been a very weedy season,” she said. “For the most part, the crops are still coming in, but the farmers work a lot harder.”