Pioneer Valley farms receive state grant

The Recorder, December 30, 2017, by Sarah Robertson

In the era of climate change, farmers are on the front lines, enduring droughts, severe weather and unpredictable conditions that threaten their crops and livelihoods.

Now, with help from the state, local farms will purchase new, environmentally efficient equipment to give them a better chance of surviving the changes to come.

Farms to receive grants include Warner Farm of Sunderland — home of Mike’s Maze, Red Fire Farm of Granby and Montague and Black Squirrel Farm of Amherst. Phoenix Fruit Farm in Belchertown and Mayval Farm of Westhampton also received grants. Each farm received several thousand dollars from the Agricultural Environmental Enhancement Program.

The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources awarded 23 grants totaling $350,000 to farmers across the state to purchase equipment that will “prevent or mitigate direct impacts on water and air quality and ensure efficient water use.”

In the Pioneer Valley, the grants will help farmers upgrade irrigation systems and purchase “no-till” equipment that helps promote healthy soil.

Effects of drought

A particularly bad drought in the summer of 2016 prompted communities across the Pioneer Valley to impose bans on nonessential outdoor water use and threatened farmers’ ability to water their crops.

For the owners of Red Fire Farm, that experience led to the rethinking of their entire irrigation system, which draws water from Stony Brook Creek.

“Summer of 2016 was a nonstop frustration, really, due to irrigation complications,” said Ryan Voiland, 39, co-owner of the farm. “We realized how inadequate that old system was.”

With a $22,500 grant, the Voiland family will install a drip irrigation system and plant new peach trees. Black Squirrel Farm will also use $20,000 for a similar irrigation system upgrade.

“We’re really grateful they awarded us the grant, said Voiland. “It will really make a big difference for the farm in the long term.”

Drip irrigation

Before buying Phoenix Farm from Atkins Farm last year, Elly Vaughan managed Red Fire Farm for seven years. She plans to use the $11,700 in grant money to install a well and drip irrigation system in a new orchard of peaches, nectarines and pear trees she plans to plant in the spring.

Drip irrigation systems are a network of underground hoses that use about half as much water as traditional overhead sprinklers and can water plants with the turn of a valve. Part of the cost for the project is replacing a gas-powered pump with an electric pump that will have to be connected to the electric grid.