Rain taking its toll on some crops

The Recorder, July 27, 2018, by Richie Davis.

The tractor pulling a harvest trailer in one of Gideon Porth’s lower-lying fields Friday morning got stuck in the mud so that another tractor had to be called in to pull it out.

It’s been that kind of week for Porth and some other growers, for whom several days and nights of downpours have left their impact on their crops.

“It hit a huge mudhole and sank out of sight,” said Porth, whose Atlas Farm grows crops on about 95 acres. After pretty favorable conditions earlier in the season, he said, “The last 10 days have been tough.”

“Our biggest issues have been not being able to access the fields to plant or cultivate,” said Porth. “We can’t cultivate when the ground’s saturated. A lot of heat, humidity and wetness is ideal weed-growing weather, and we can’t get in to do any weed management with tractors or people. Some crops don’t tolerate this weather as well, but this is ideal weather for weeds to grow real fast.”

As an organic grower without access to herbicides, it’s very hard to get rid of weeds once they get established, he said.

Disease pressure has also been more intense, with tomatoes showing fungal and bacterial problems popping up as well as fungus developing on leafy greens like kale and collards. There’s also some bottom rot on lettuce, he said.

The overall tomato crop, with field harvesting just begun, “looks pretty good, but if we had another week like this, we’ve definitely see some decline,” Porth said. “Tomatoes are so disease-prone in general. When we have a lot of wetness, they get hit.”

And a sad irony is that a lot of the later season crops, which are just getting established, were planted on land where there’s standing water.

“We tend to save that for later planting, because in a typical year, spring is a wetter time, and it’s hard to get into,” said Porth.

The National Weather Service predicts drier air in the coming week, with mild and comfortable conditions followed by increasing humidity toward midweek, followed by scattered showers and isolated thunderstorms and locally heavy downpours later in the week.

A bit farther northwest in town, the early peach crop at Clarkdale Farms has suffered as well.

“Peaches like hot, dry weather, ideally, so we’d rather have had the rain a month ago,” said grower Ben Clark. The 4.3 inches of rainfall over the past five days — more than an inch over what fell for the entire month of July last year or July 2016 — slowed ripening of most of the 50 peach varieties Clarkdale has coming in through September. For those early varieties that just began being harvested a couple of weeks ago, he said, “The skin gets very sensitive and starts to split, and they blow up like balloons. They just absorb the water. So we were out trying to pick them ahead of the rain. It wasn’t a major loss, but it interrupted harvest cycle, so it’s sort of a lag that threw off that schedule. By next week, we’ll have plenty of peaches.”

As for flavor, Clark said, the cling peaches that ripened this week had slightly less flavor, “but they were still sweet and pretty juicy. If it was hot and dry for two weeks, the flavor would have been a little more intense.”

The good news was that there are plenty of lower-price, utility-grade peaches for people who make jams and preserves. Another plus is that apples “love the rain,” and should be plumper and juicier because of it.

“Overall, the rain’s been an annoyance,” Clark said, “But we’re definitely welcoming the rain, and we haven’t had to run irrigation. We’re happy to be getting rain, but we’d like it on a better schedule.”

Back at Atlas, Porth said, “I’d always take dry over wet. It’s a hell of a lot of work to irrigate, but at least you can control it. When it’s wet, there’s nothing to do but sit there and watch things melt down. It’s much more frustrating.”