Valley farmers suffer losses in soggy summer
Daily Hampshire Gazette, September 8, 2018, by Greta Jochem.
Twin Oaks Farm co-owner Linda Kingsley said her peppers this year were gorgeous — except that they were full of water. “Everything is just full of water,” she said of this season. And because of the relentless heat, she saw a reduced cabbage yield. “It stopped growing, it’s too hot to grow,” she said. Her worst loss was the butternut squash. The farm left about half of the squash in the field because it showed signs of rot or had already rotted. “Overall, we think we have at least 80 percent loss of the butternut,” she said.
She pinpoints the hot, humid and rainy climate as the cause of rotting, reduced yield and disease. “It was kind of a perfect storm this year,” she said.
It’s been a particularly hot and wet summer in the Valley. Lenore Correia, meteorologist at National Weather Service Boston/Norton, said that in June, July and August, Amherst received 20.6 inches of rain, much more than the average for the period of around 13 or 14 inches. It also was the sixth warmest summer on record since 1893. Statistics for humidity were not available, but she said, “It has been significantly more humid in August and July.”
All that water was bad for the squash. Kingsley said her squash suffered from disease caused by Phytophthora, a soil-borne pathogen that thrives in standing water. Kingsley usually keeps track of rainfall, but this summer she just gave up on keeping the tally. Unfortunately, Kingsley said, the disease can strike even after picking. Pointing to some harvested squash, she said it looked nice — but it could rot for no reason at all. “That’s the kicker,” she said.
She says it’s not just her farm but others that have been affected by the weather, too. “It’s been been difficult for a lot of people,” she said.
Not far from Twin Oaks Farm, Plainville Farm in Hadley experienced similar losses. “Certain field were literally destroyed by rain,” said co-partner Wally Czajkowski. He attributes the losses to a combination of heat and rain. The farm lost about a third of its cauliflower, and over 10 percent of its broccoli. “Those crops don’t like heat,” he said. Like Kingsley, he said he has noticed other farms with similar issues. “I know it’s bad when other farms are calling looking for product,” he said.
Both Kingsley and Czajkowski point to climate change as a driving factor. “Unfortunately, this is climate change,” said Kingsley. “This might be the new normal.” Czajkowski, too, sees climate change as a major factor. He’s been farming for over 60 years, and this season stands out. “I haven’t seen this before. I hope this isn’t the future,” he said. He said he hopes it cools off, for the plants’ sake and the outdoor workers, too. Heat, humidity and no breeze is tough, he said, “It’s hard on people. It’s exhausting.”
The season is going to be a financial crunch for area farmers, Kingsley predicts. “We’re going to be careful how we spend money the rest of the year,” Czajkowski said. “There’s not much we can do.”
Moving forward, Kingsley said she’s not doing anything in particular to makeup for the losses. She’s focusing on her beets, and thankful for good-looking leeks and corn that don’t seem to be affected. She said the farm is storing harvested crops differently, trying to ensure air circulation to avoid rotting. “Hopefully, it will keep,” she said, “but we’re not too hopeful.”
Greta Jochem can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org