WHILE WEATHER is adding mightily to the plight of area dairy farmers, all agriculture has been so hard hit by rain and storm damage that Monday, July 27, Governor David Paterson requested the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) designate Columbia and 16 other counties as agricultural disaster areas.
If the USDA approves the request, the designation “will enable our farmers to receive the financial assistance they need,” the governor said in a release.
Cornell Cooperative Extension Agricultural Extension Education Mick Bessire said that in addition to the tomato blight reported in The Columbia Paper July 16, other crops in the county have been affected in different ways by the rain and, in some places, hail and by the resulting mold and fungal infections. Some spring crops weren’t planted on time because the fields were too wet, other fields washed out and had to be replanted late. Some were never planted.
With the heavy rains and delays in harvest, some of the cereal grains, like rye and oats, fell flat in the fields, beyond the reach of the harvesting machinery. Hay crops haven’t been harvested, even when the forecast promises the requisite consecutive days of sunshine, because the water in the ground will leach into the cut hay and prevent drying.
Mr. Bessire said some fields that were cut “have never dried down to be able to be baled. In these fields, the mown hay turned to a kind of black, moldy mush.”
The strawberry harvest, he told The Columbia Paper, was shortened by the wet conditions. “The cherry crop had so much water in it that the fruit swelled up and burst. Some cherry producers lost about half of their crop this way,” he said. “And too little sunshine is making the quality of the other tree fruits an uncertainty. The longer it continues to rain, the lower the quality and useable quantity will be.”
Field crops, inundated and standing in water, lose their nutrients to leaching, said Mr. Bessire, while other crops that continue to stand in the water will actually drown and die.
“We all know that weather, pestilence, and market conditions are variables that always affect the farmers’ bottom lines. The problem is that this year, all of these variables are hitting them right between the eyes, all at the same time.”
About the only bright spots, he said, are that some leafy vegetables are producing well, and grazing livestock enterprises have benefited by the constantly growing grass. “We’re looking now for a lot of sunshine (literally and figuratively) to help salvage the year’s agricultural production,” Mr. Bessire said, adding that “although the governor’s proposal for assistance is sincerely appreciated, the area being declared a ‘disaster area’ is a little bit understated–more like a ‘war zone’ this year.”