Relentless rainfall wipes out Hudson Valley crops – Times Union


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Pat Lang, head of farm production at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project, looks out onto his farm fields and the effects of the recent heavy rain and storms are abundantly evident to him. His pepper plants have developed a fungal disease. The paths for the tractors are too muddy to manage the area, and unruly weeds grow taller with the added groundwater.
“I could foresee up to like 50 percent less [of a total yield] than last year, that is a possibility” Lang said. “It’s hard to predict … And certainly if it continues — and they are expecting a lot of wet weather this week — through next week or the week after that, then none of what I’m saying would be an exaggeration. I think it’s a very, very real effect.”

        Lang said farmers rely on dry periods to tend to the crops and fields, but the three inches of steady rain in the past week has made that difficult. With too much rain and not enough sun, Lang says his cantaloupes, peppers and tomatoes are showing signs of excess moisture and diseases that are not easy to combat. Also, crops like cucumbers, watermelons and zucchinis — all of which require warmer temperatures — are struggling to thrive in the cooler climes.

            These are only a few of the problems that farms across the Hudson Valley are experiencing due to this month’s heavy rainfall, part of a growing trend that will be a challenge for local farmers. Climate data from the Northeast Regional Climate Center showed that annual rainfall is steadily climbing, with an average of 9.1 more inches of rain in 2010 than in 1957.

        At Branchwater Farms — a farm located in Milan, Dutchess County, which also acts as a distillery — the weather’s impact was more severe. Last week, owner Kevin Pike lost 25 acres of his wheat and rye crop to strong storm winds and hail that barreled through the region and also knocked out power for thousands. The farm posted a picture on Monday to Instagram of the impacted field and was met with comments from fellow sympathetic farmers.

        For Pike, that may mean no bourbon, rye whiskey or gin aside from using the crops he has in storage.

            “Basically what was happening, in the life of the grain is that the grass was drying,” Pike said. “So it’s all golden in color, and it’s fragile because there’s no water in the plant [due to hot temperatures]. So when you have a thunderstorm or heavy winds or hail, it just knocks the plants over and they break and fall on the ground.”

        He explained that Branchwater uses regenerative farming techniques, a practice in which farmers always have something growing in the ground to avoid plowing. When farmers plow, all the carbon dioxide is released from the plants out of the ground and into the atmosphere. Plowing also interrupts the dense fungal network in the soil that allows plants to take in necessary nutrients to grow for healthy growth.

            “Climate change is a real thing,” Pike said, “and this is the only thing that we can do to mitigate it on our farm.”

            Now, the farm’s next step is to mow the high weeds and what is left of his crop and start anew, Pike said. He said the weather in the next 45 days will be crucial for this process to succeed.

            Likewise, Luke Franco, who owns and operates Tiny Hearts Farm in Copake, Columbia County, with his wife, Jennifer Elliott, said the rain has submerged their organic flower crops. While they have been able to harvest what they have grown so far, the real impact will be seen in a month or two.

        “I think we’ll see in 4 to 6 weeks that a lot of farms might start to have gaps in their production,” Franco said by phone. “This is a pause button. You can’t plant or seed or whatever. If we totally miss this window, that means weeks from now we’ll have empty spots where we’ll normally have a crop.”

            Both Pike and Lang said that, as farmers in the Hudson Valley, thunderstorms are something they think about often in the summertime. During these times, Lang and his team take stock of the farm, noting any high-risk crops that may have fallen victim to pathogens due to high moisture. As he walked around the fields on Monday, he spotted signs of bacterial leaf spot on red pepper plants.

            However, the rain has been beneficial in other regards. Both Lang and Pike said that the current weather pattern has been especially conducive for lettuce development. And Lang said the heavy rainfall means the farm can cut back on hours needed to irrigate the fields.

            Not all growers are seeing the heavy rains as a negative quite yet. Farmer Joe DeGise of the Apple Ridge Orchard in Warwick, Orange County, said their apples and pumpkins appear fine, with the peaches thriving from June’s warm days climbing above 90° F with high humidity.

        DeGise said he would be concerned if the rains and storms persisted throughout the season, as fruit may begin to split, though there is little the 63-acre farm can do to “mitigate Mother Nature.”

            “There are stressful times like these, but a big part of farming is just getting through it and still doing our best, Lang said. “Still doing our best to maximize harvest and keep everything as healthy as possible.”

            Franco remains hopeful that dryer weather will help turn things around.

            “Maybe it’ll stop raining?” Franco said with a laugh. “Some years you get a super wet year, some years you get a super dry year. We’re just waiting for our Goldilocks year.”


            Christopher Cicchiello is an editorial intern currently pursuing a degree in journalism from Syracuse University. For story ideas and inquiries, you can reach him at [email protected]

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