Persistent rain stunting crops, local farmers say
It’s easier to count the days that it didn’t rain in June — eight.
On four days last month, we had what Lee Hendricks, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh, calls “a major rain event,” the wettest officially being 1.88 inches on June 15, followed by another inch the next day.
But, as with real estate, location is everything: “It’s kind of amazing how different it can be in different locations,” Hendricks said.
AccuWeather measured 1.36 inches on June 8, and officials in southern Indiana County said more than 3 inches fell on June 15.
All told, Indiana County was deluged with just over 9 inches of rain last month, almost twice the normal amount, according to AccuWeather. That puts us at 28.8 inches of precipitation for the year, about 5.8 inches more than normal. By comparison, the area saw just 3 inches in May.
We have an upper-level high-pressure system on the West Coast to thank for the persistent rain, Hendricks said. That ridge of high pressure has a trough behind it extending into the Mid-Atlantic states, which means abundant moisture from the Gulf has been streaming into the Northeast, he explained.
The two-week outlook by the National Weather Service predicts much of the same for the first part of July.
“It doesn’t look like that ridge will break apart anytime soon, and if it doesn’t, we’ll have the same weather pattern,” Hendricks said.
All this rain has had a detrimental effect on local agriculture. The adage “rain makes grain” is a bit misleading. More accurately, it would be, “The right amount of rain makes grain.”
If someone wants sweet corn, they had better get it in the first round as replanting right now is almost impossible.
Bob Pollock, educator at Indiana’s Penn State Extension, said the wet weather brings problems for nearly every type of crop, animal feed and produce alike.
Corn is resilient to frequent rains but standing water will yellow and eventually kill corn. Pollock said the water replaces the air in the soil and the roots need some air to survive.
Farmers are having trouble getting their alfalfa cut and gathered as they need a couple of sunny days to dry the hay. Inopportune rain can rob hay of its nutrients. This costs farmers more money, as they must supplement the loss in nutrition with other things.
Pollock has heard few reports of blight in the area but the conditions are right for Southern storms to pull disease along with it. The website usablight.org doesn’t show any major blight outbreaks in the area, but Pollock said there is always a little bit of blight around. It can attack the leaves or fruit of a vegetable plant. If it keeps raining, he said, there will be more disease.
Any vegetables that lay in the mud have a hard time drying out and are susceptible to rot.
Chloe Drew, a director for the Indiana farmers’ market, and Dan Yarnick from Yarnick’s Farm both confirmed what Pollock said could happen to vegetable crops.
Drew said the farmers’ market produce vendors don’t have a large selection right now. She said beets are small and sickly. Tomatoes, garlic, onions and most root vegetables are also taking a hit.
She said this year she lost all of her kale crop.
Drew said some customers at the farmers’ market are likely disappointed, and the combination of a small selection and constant rain is keeping some customers away.
Yarnick said he is frustrated at the rains because it makes the picking harder for his crews and they can’t get vegetables replanted.
“Nothing likes wet feet,” he said.
Except weeds, which are coming in strong and in high numbers. This adds to the problem as weeds shade the ground even further and make it harder for the soil to dry.
The Yarnicks have some low-lying fields in Armstrong Township.
“Fields are flooded I’ve never seen flooded before,” Dan Yarnick said.