Rain Creates Many Problems For Farmers

Jul 5, 2013

Agriculture officials say the rain has been a problem for Vermont farmers, but it’s difficult to generalize about its affect.  The amount of rainfall, the type of soil, the crops being grown and the farming practices used, are all factors.

But the rain is a challenge even where fields aren’t inundated.

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture doesn’t keep a tally of how many acres of farmland are affected by the heavy rains, but there’s plenty of anecdotal information about delayed or ruined crops and hayfields too wet to harvest. 

“It’s rained two inches in the last day.  That’s a fact,” says Plainfield organic vegetable farmer Joey Klein.

The conditions at Klein’s farm along the Winooski River illustrate the range of problems the rain has caused for farmers.  

Klein has been growing organic vegetables here for 26 years. Some of his land is a sandy loam soil that drains well.  Neat rows of beets, cabbage and other crops bask in a break of sunshine between rains.

“You can see things are doing generally pretty well on this soil,” says Klein.  They’re not drowning!”

The vegetable plants growing here look good, but so do the tiny weeds springing up around them.

In dryer weather they could be taken care of with a hoe, but with the rain, they simply reestablish themselves.  Getting into the fields to cultivate with a tractor is also difficult because the soil is so soft.

Klein eyes a row of Kale.  “I can see that that Kale should really be a darker green,” he says.

That’s because a well drained soil like this loses nutrients, which are washed away with too much rain.  It’s going to add to the cost of this year’s crop.

“We’re going to have to re-fertilize.  The fertilizer that I put out this spring is generally pretty gone,” Klein concludes.

Elsewhere, the rain has washed away an expensive commercial organic deer repellent Klein sprays on his plants.

“So I need to spray it again to keep the deer out,” Klein says as he looks at a line of deer tracks that follow a row of peas.

Some of the peas are nearly ready to pick, but in one corner of the field part of the crop is underwater.

It’s in the Klein’s fields with heavier soils that the effect of the rain is most pronounced.

“Look at this,” he says standing at the edge of another field where the rainwater stands in pools.  “The frogs are happy. The ducks could paddle.  This is supposed to be what it looks like when the snow melts.”

These are conditions the Agency of Agriculture says other Vermont farmers are facing and their problems are much more pronounced than they are at Klein’s farm:  Standing water in the fields is either drowning crops or preventing their planting.

Klein says he feels more fortunate than many farmers who are suffering through the wet weather. He’s convinced warmer, wetter seasons are inevitable because of climate change.  

As for the perfect farming weather, it would probably suit most Vermonters, but it’s about as rare as tomatoes in April.

“We would go for an each of rain a week, overnight, one night a week.  And then the rest of the time it could be sunny.”