Farmers try to weather the rain

The Recorder, July 17, 2021 By DOMENIC POLI, Staff Writer

No living thing can survive without water. But an abundance of it can wreak havoc on plants, especially crops that farmers depend on for income.

Nearly 8 inches of rain fell on Greenfield between July 1 and July 14, and the rest of Franklin County wasn’t spared from the heavy precipitation. Local farmers said the rainfall is just one more hurdle to clear, and is the polar opposite of another hardship ? drought.

Ryan Voiland, who owns Red Fire Farm in Montague with his wife, Sarah, said the rain has caused major problems.

“Things were growing quite nicely this year until 10 days or so ago, when it started raining just torrentially over and over,” he said Thursday afternoon. “It went from looking really good in the field to being oversaturated.”

Voiland said his fields with less-than-perfect drainage are in big trouble. He estimated that one-third of his fall carrots, planted when they were still germinating, are under water and will have to be abandoned.

“It’s like a swamp right now,” he said, adding that many of his tomato plants are damaged.

The farm’s properties in Sunderland and Granby are experiencing similar problems, Voiland added.

He said that, aside from the crops, heavy rainfall creates a lot of mud, which inhibits tractors, and large puddles make it impossible to kill weeds. He also said his irrigation pond is overflowing and his irrigation pumps near the Connecticut River were submerged in water when the river overflowed. He said he believes the pumps can be repaired, but that is yet another project added to the list.

Voiland said the rain will likely result in a 5 to 10 percent yield reduction.

“There’s no insurance that will help us with this type of thing,” he said.

David Wissemann, who runs Warner Farm in Sunderland with his father, Mike, said his business has likely suffered less than others in the area, but the heavy rain has delayed the harvesting of some crops.

“When it’s super dry, you can always add water ? you can’t take it away,” he said.

The Warner Farm’s main fall crop is the corn maze, referring to the 8-acre Mike’s Maze that is a popular fall attraction. The maze has been affected because its design carved into the cornfield by Rob Stouffer, of Precision Mazes in Lee’s Summit, Mo. ? has been delayed at least a week. His family has been able to literally weather the storm because in 2018 it acquired the Millstone Farm Market across the street. This has provided a consistent and unaffected revenue stream.

The heavy rainfall can be attributed to both the passing through of Hurricane Elsa and general tropical moisture from the south, according to Bill Leatham, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Norton. He said the rain has plagued much of New England, though the southeastern portion of Massachusetts is actually experiencing a mild drought because the western side of a storm typically contains more rainfall, whereas the eastern side experiences more wind. Leatham said the rain is expected to last through at least the weekend in Franklin County.

Leslie Harris, the farm manager at Quonquont Farm in Whately, said coming into the season she was expecting a drought similar to last year, when barely more than 3 inches fell in Greenfield in the first two weeks of July.

“I was beginning to worry because (the property is) not irrigated,” she said. “And now, suddenly, the rain won’t stop, it seems like. The good news is our rain barrels [which she got because of last year’s drought] are full, if it ever does stop.”

Harris said heavy precipitation puts all plants under a lot of stress, though more mature trees fare better because they have longer roots. The orchard grows peaches, strawberries and blueberries. She said harvesting is a wet task but “it’s better than having a drought.”

Voiland, Wissemann and Harris said perhaps the biggest concern pertaining to the excess water is the diseases and blights they can cause. Voiland is scouting carefully for fungal and bacterial diseases that can easily spread.

Wissemann said water mold can devastate crops like tomatoes, peppers, melons, cucumbers and winter squash, and he has started to see a certain type creep into some of his fields. But, he said, Warner Farm is not an organic operation, meaning workers can spray chemicals to keep mold at bay. Organic farms, however, cannot do this and “nothing organically can prevent it.”

Harris said her biggest challenge is warding off diseases humidity can cause in plants.

“You can’t control the weather, so you work around it,” she said. “I’m hoping that things will even out and we’ll still have a great harvest season.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: or 413772-0261, ext. 262.