‘We’re trying to work around the mud’: Local farmers cope with near-record breaking rain in July

  • Cabbage, broccoli and other vegetables in a field too wet to cultivate at Intervale Farm in Westhampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Potato plants that were sitting in a puddle of water after the 15 inches of rain fell in July in a field at Intervale Farm in Westhampton. “Things were looking good and then it rained and rained,” explained co-owner Rick Tracy, “It hit a tipping point and all of sudden the plants were in a puddle of water.” STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rick Tracy, co-owner of Intervale Farm in Westhampton, stands in a field where his potato plants died. “Roots need air in the soil and when they are standing in water they drown,” he said. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Potato plants that were sitting in a puddle of water after 15 inches of rain fell in July in a field at Intervale Farm in Westhampton. “Things were looking good and then it rained and rained,” explained co-owner Rick Tracy, “It hit a tipping point and all of sudden the plants were in a puddle of water.” STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rick Tracy, co-owner of Intervale Farm in Westhampton, stands in a field where his potato plants died. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rick Tracy, co-owner of Intervale Farm in Westhampton, stands in a field where his potato plants died. “Roots need air in the soil and when they are standing in water they drown,” he said. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Jacquelyn Voghel, staff writer,
and Sophia Gardner, Gazette intern
Published: 7/26/2021 8:50:39 PM

AMHERST — Quabbin Farms in Pelham is always a little damper than most: The farmland is nicknamed “the swamp on the hill” because it collects so much water.

The location is usually an asset to the farmers, who spend less time watering and rigging irrigation. But this year, the Valley’s nearly record-breaking rain has doomed almost half of the farm’s crops.

“We lost half of our pepper field, and we have essentially lost all of our cucumber fields,” said Sadie Trombetto, the farm’s business manager. “I anticipate losing some more.”

Quabbin Farms’ troubles are not unique, though the naturally damp location has affected the farm more intensely than other area growers. With record-breaking rainfall sweeping across the region throughout July, many Hampshire County farms have lost crops, time and sales to oversaturated soil.

The hardest-hit crops at Quabbin Farm were the vine-growing vegetables, according to Trombetto.

“They grow kind of on the ground, so even just a couple inches of water can really destroy them,” she said.

The farm also lost a large fraction of its tomato crop, as well as some of its eggplants and cabbage.

One of the biggest problems caused by the rain is that it facilitates mold growth on the produce, Trombetto said, noting that the farm “had a row of cabbage that just was totally taken over by molds.”

Farmhands have been using organic sprays and doing extra handwork to combat the mold.

“It’s been a lot of literally drying, wiping and pulling things off,” Trombetto said.

This year’s exceptionally rainy July stands in stark contrast to last summer when most of the state and Hampshire County were under a moderate drought.

In Westhampton, Intervale Farm lost around 10% of its potatoes because of the heavy rains, said co-owner Rick Tracy, due to a wet spot approximately 50 feet in diameter.

“Last year we were spending a lot of time irrigating,” Tracy said. “This year we’re trying to work around the mud.”

Surface water has led to rot and disease on crops such as lettuce, and some crops are experiencing delayed growth.

Additionally, gathering crops in the oversaturated soil takes extra time. Because machinery is not compatible with the rain-soaked ground, farmers need to gather more of their crops by hand.

“Normally you can drive out into the field and not be lugging your cucumbers and squash the whole length of the field,” Tracy said.

Tracy anticipates rainfall will cause more issues as the season goes on, though he said it’s “early enough in the season that it’s hard to gauge what the overall effects will be.”

Jeremy Barker Plotkin, co-owner of Simple Gifts Farm in Amherst, also noted that some crops are having difficulty growing in the cool, wet conditions that have dominated much of July.

“We have had a couple plantings of salad greens that should have been ready to harvest by now,” Barker Plotkin said, “but they’re just sitting there and not growing.”

Salad greens are usually one of the farm’s highest-volume crops, and the farm typically sells some of the produce to River Valley Co-Op. But this year, Simple Gifts Farm has so far “had just barely enough (salad greens) to supply our store,” Barker Plotkin said, “and we haven’t had enough to wholesale to River Valley Market.”

The farm also experienced “significant washing out” in one of its strawberry fields, and some of the tomatoes are showing early stages of disease.

“I think if we get some warm, dry weather they’ll grow out of it,” Barker Plotkin said, “but they’re vulnerable.”

The loss of crops poses “a financial difficulty for sure,” Barker Plotkin said. “We’re hanging in there, but these are crops we expected to be able to sell.

“You have the amount of income you’re able to make for weeks to be able to make the year work,” he continued, “and if you miss a week or two, it throws everything off.”

Adding to financial stresses, the surge in support that many local farms saw last growing season has died down in the second year of the pandemic, according to Barker Plotkin.

“I think local farms really stepped up to work with supply chains and feed our community,” he said, “and there’s been a dropping off of that support as people go back to regular grocery stores.

He continued, “The farms are still here, and we need people’s support to be around the next time a public health (event) or some other kind of crisis comes up.”

In summer 2018, which also bought unusually high levels of rain, the farm’s leadership made the decision to transition into organic no-till production, a farming method that offers better protection for crops in overly wet and dry conditions.

“It’s a transition we think we need to make in order to deal with the weather we expect to be having in the next years,” Barker Plotkin said, “but the learning curve has caused us to have some crop loss as well.”

Despite these adjustment difficulties, Barker Plotkin believes the shift will pay off in the long run, with experts predicting that climate change will continue to cause increasingly extreme weather patterns in the coming years.

Elly Vaughan, the owner and operator of Phoenix Valley Fruit Farm in Belchertown, is also finding that her fields are too saturated for her to use certain machinery.

“I can’t drive in a lot of my fields right now or do any tractor work,” she said.

Vaughan’s main crops are apples and peaches, which have fared a little better than her vegetables because the fruit hangs above the wet ground. However, the weather has been making some of the fruit’s skins crack because the excess water makes them grow too quickly. She’s also worried about the taste of the fruit because too much water can dilute the flavor.

“Overall, it really isn’t good to get these big storms,” Vaughan said. “You really only want about two inches a week.”

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.



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