Dry weather keeps farmers guessing

Richie Davis
The Recorder
May 7, 2013

Dry enough for you?

With few, if any, April showers or May rains, newly planted and transplanted crops on area farms are begging for water, and firefighters have been busy responding to brush fires around the region and the state.

“The weather’s hurting us,” said Gideon Porth of Atlas Farms in Deerfield, where crews have been having to irrigate before they transplant lettuce and other greens. “That adds another layer of complexity because we have to get a field prepped, getting the irrigation equipment on it, then take all the irrigation equipment out, to plant it and then set it up again.”

Then, with not enough expensive irrigation equipment to keep all the plants wet, crews have to constantly move the pipes and pumps.

“Those crops are really tricky to plant and get off to get a good start if they don’t have enough water,” Porth said. And it’s no easier trying to keep germinating carrots, beets and other from-seed crops.

Area farms are used to irrigating, but more typically later in the season. “It’s strange,” he said. “We had an early spring last year, and it’s usually so wet that we’re waiting around for the fields to dry because it’s so wet. But we were setting irrigation the first week in April.”

Across the river, at Red Fire Farm in Montague, Ryan Voiland said his crews have been irrigating for about a week and has seen some of his kale crop die because they couldn’t get the irrigation equipment set up early enough.
Along with the kale, he said, “We have broccoli, cabbage, turnips and radishes on a pretty sandy field this spring,” and irrigating those fields with limited equipment means having two or three workers just to move the irrigation pipes, pumps and fuel every few hours.

With rain predicted Wednesday or Thursday, Voiland and other growers are beginning to breathe a little easier.

“A good inch or two would be helpful right now,” he said. “There have been a few days when it would have been good to have a little shower here or there.”

An inch or two is something the area hasn’t had since March 19, when the last significant rainfall of 2.2 inches occurred. Other than that, weather records show the last rainfall of just 0.79 inches on April 19 — with a total of less than 2 1∕2

inches for the entire month, and none in May. Snowfall in March amounted to less than 2
inches as well, and there was less than 9 inches of snow on the ground.

For the record, though, 2010 was even drier by now, with less than an inch of rainfall in April and only 0.1 additional inches of rain by this time in May.

Nourse Farms also had to begin irrigating its nursery fields in Whately, Hatfield, Montague and Deerfield, “so the transplants wouldn’t dry up. It’s just the process to make sure the plants get off to a new start.”

Nourse said he’s also irrigated the strawberry plants three times that should yield a good crop of berries next month.

But at Upinngil Farm in Gill, Clifford Hatch said his fields are doing fine.

“The drier the weather is, during bloom, the better,” he said. “If we persist in having sunny days and real cool nights, the flavor will be just fantastic. As a rule, this part of the country gets more (rain) than it needs,” but his silty loam has been holding the moisture pretty well.

“This is looking like a very normal season,” he said. “The last two years, the fruit bloom has been rushed by excessive heat in April,” and colder weather that came on in May cut the season short.

“The dry weather is holding me up a little bit,” Hatch said. “I’m going to wait until after this rain before I lay plastic mulch for my melons. But I’m not going to panic.”

Tom Aiken, Natural Resource Conservation Service agronomist, said it’s mostly farmers in the valley area that are transplanting crops into the fields that are either having to delay those transplants or needing to irrigate.

Meanwhile, state Fire Warden Dave Celino said that even though trees are leafing out nicely, there’s some danger of brush fires and fires along railroad tracks.

“There’s a lot of areas that are not shaded, and we had a batch of fires along railroad tracks all up and down the Pioneer Valley the last three or four days. “Even in the shaded fields, the dry leaf litter is so dry they’re still very receptive until we get some rain,” he said.

Last week, he said, low relative humidity created very dry conditions to cause a lot of burning. What helped was having nothing more than light, variable winds.

“We’ve been really lucky,” he said. Yet he added, “Even with rain coming in Wednesday or Thursday, that will give us a break for a little bit. But we’re not looking for a lot of rain.”

A U.S. Geologic Survey Website shows streamflow in most area streams and rivers as “much below normal” for this time of year.

You can reach Richie Davis at: or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269