Farmers cope with rain, heat
STACEY SOLT/TIMES NEWS Our area's warm, wet weather has benefited many local farms, including Crystal Spring Tree Farm in Lehighton. While the farm is prepared to irrigate its youngest, most vulnerable trees, the majority of their trees are spread over more than 200 acres far too much too irrigate. The biggest threat to the more mature trees now will be intense heat and sunlight, which can cause sunburn.
Mother Nature is smiling on area crops this year.
While there is no perfect weather for all crops, the weather this spring and summer has been ideal for many of the foods we associate with summertime.
This trend began in spring, when drier weather allowed farmers to plant crops in a timely manner, said Dwane Miller, the agricultural extension educator of the Penn State Extension office, Schuylkill County.
"Now of course we're seeing quite a bit of wet weather," he said. "For many crops this is good, and for others it poses challenges."
The warm, wet weather our area is experiencing has been a boon for many farmers, coming at just the right time for corn and our favorite summer fruits and vegetables.
"We're getting to a pretty critical time for moisture, especially in the corn crop," said Miller.
"If you drive around the countryside, you'll notice that the corn has a nice height to it," he added. "If it gets too dry, you would see the leaves curling up. Right now we're not seeing anything like that."
The owners of Nev and Nise Produce in Lehighton are counting on this year's great yields to outweigh the crops that perished in the wet weather.
"It started out a little dry, then it went really wet. It's been a struggle," said Nevin Frey. "It went too wet and actually killed some of the crops. Now it's pretty much back to normal, if there is a normal."
Frey noted that the farm's pumpkins and gourds were among those plants that faired poorly.
"We had them in the ground, and it was so dry when we put them in that they were late germinating. When they did germinate, we got all of that rain. All of the pumpkins got disease and died," he said.
Frey noted that his crops that need lots of moisture, including sweet corn and potatoes, are thriving this summer.
"The rain came at a great time. Some of our crops look the best they've ever looked," he said.
"It's a year of averages," added Frey. "One crop might be a little on the light side because of the weather, while another might be a bumper crop. It's been a good year, even with the wet weather that we have had."
Agricultural commodities that are not faring as well include hay and wheat. This past weekend, with its short dry period, was a rare opportunity for farmers growing hay to get into the fields and harvest.
"It's been a big challenge for folks to make hay. You need a couple days of nice hot, dry weather, with low humidity, to make hay," said Miller. Wet weather can make it difficult to harvest hay and rain at the wrong time can ruin the entire cutting for some farmers.
"The other crop that it's challenging for is wheat. We have a very small amount of wheat that has been taken off right now, and I would suspect in the next stretch of nice weather farmers will be trying to take wheat off," said Miller. "But if they can't get it all off, and we keep getting rain, the wheat could actually sprout in the field before it's harvested."
He noted that wheat that has sprouted in the field has limited uses and is worth dramatically less.
While the weather's impact on most farms is readily apparent, the area's biggest agricultural product Christmas trees will remain in the field for another four to five months before harvest time. But the summer weather can have a dramatic impact on their growth, too.
The wet weather means less stress for the youngest trees, and less water and money spent irrigating seedlings. Still, growers are hoping there's not too much of a good thing.
"Trees don't like wet feet," said Chris Botek, an owner of Crystal Spring Tree Farm.
He noted that this year's wet weather came at an ideal time the more mature trees are nearly done growing and expanding this year. The biggest threat to these trees now is intense heat and sunlight in late July and August, which can cause sunburn.
"People think that because the ground is wet when they wake up, that it rained. All that it does is wet the ground," he added. "You need the rain to soak in. When you do get rain, it's good to get a slow, steady rain of at least an inch."
Crystal Spring has the ability to irrigate the youngest plants in nursery beds, but the majority of his trees are planted over more than 200 acres far too much to irrigate.
"So far this year, knock on wood, we've gotten really lucky," he said, gesturing to the puddles forming near the farm's fields. "Puddles are a good sign."