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Sussex Countian
  • Excessive rainfall affects local harvests; farmers persevere

  • This summer’s unforgiving rainfall has really done a number to local farmer Jay Baxter’s fields, and he’s not alone.
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  • This summer’s unforgiving rainfall has really done a number to local farmer Jay Baxter’s fields, and he’s not alone.
    “There’s a lot of faith involved in this line of work,” Baxter said as he walked through a lima bean field on his Georgetown farm. “We planted these lima bean seeds a few days ago and the rain washed away the top soil. Now the seeds are exposed.”
    Baxter, with 5-year-old son James in tow, planned to spend Saturday digging a ditch from the more flooded area of the field to a nearby wooded area, in hopes of promoting drainage.
    Baxter Farms was founded in the early 1900s by Jay Baxter’s great grandfather, making him a fourth generation farmer.
    “The old timers talk about how a drought will hurt you, but an overly wet year will make you go broke, and I can believe it,” he said.
    Rainfall totals
    Joe Lundberg, a senior meteorologist with Accuweather.com, described this summer’s rainfall totals as “phenomenal.”
    Throughout June, Lundberg said, central Sussex County saw 12.14 inches of rain, which is 300 percent more than the normal average of 3.85 inches through this point.
    The normal average rainfall for July is 3.48 inches, but at only mid-month the area has received 5.38 inches.
    The excessive rainfall is likely not caused by any one factor, Lundberg said.
    “However if you look at wind patterns, which dictate where the systems go around the country, we’ve had a persistent upper level ridge of high pressure sitting just off the coast,” he said. “It has brought a lot of deep tropical moisture from the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico up the Eastern Seaboard.”
    Although this week’s weather has been hot and dry, Lundberg said patterns suggest August, which typically sees an average of 5.3 inches of precipitation, will also been wetter than normal.
    Crops affected
    Ed Kee, secretary of the state Department of Agriculture, said the rainfall has caused three major problems for Delaware farmers – standing water in fields that negatively affects yields and quality, increased potential for fungus and plant disease, and muddy conditions that make it nearly impossible for farm equipment to access the fields.
    Earlier in the summer, the local pea harvest was hit relatively hard by rainfall, Kee said, as about 500 acres of peas valued at roughly $300,000 to $350,000 was not harvested due to excessively wet conditions.
    Now, he said, vine crops like watermelons, cantaloupes and cucumbers are the most heavily affected by rainfall.
    Page 2 of 2 - “Those fields are just standing in water, so obviously the crops can’t grow correctly and yields and quality are diminished,” Kee said.
    The good news, Kee said, is the cantaloupe harvest just started and the watermelon harvest doesn’t begin until about July 21, so decent yields and good quality are possible if the rain stops.
    Delaware’s big money maker, corn for grain, which is not harvested until September and October, is also seeing losses due to flooded areas in fields. However, for the corn that is not drowning, the particularly moist soil is increasing its quality, which could make up for any losses. The same goes for sweet corn, which is already being harvested, and soy beans, which are harvested at the beginning of October.
    Disease
    Although the heavy rainfall increases the quality of some crops, it can also increase the risk of plant disease.
    Charlie Smith of T.S. Smith & Sons in Bridgeville, a fourth generation farmer, said the wet weather is like an incubator for fungus.
    “We’re putting on an extra spray or two to keep fruit from rotting in the fields,” Smith said.
    Kee said the crops most vulnerable to plant disease are watermelons, cantaloupes, tomatoes, string beans and cucumbers.
    “Farmers have to be vigilant and spray with fungicides to protect vines from diseases,” Kee said. “However because it’s so wet, it can sometimes be difficult to get tractors and sprayers into the fields, so that creates yet another problem.”
    Pushing forward
    Kee said overall, the wet weather is troublesome for fruit and vegetable growers, but it’s too early to consider the season “devastating.”
    For grain crops like corn and soybeans, Kee said there will be isolated pockets of loss, but there’s still potential for good profit.
    “The season so far has been problematic,” he said. “But farmers are resilient and it always amazes me how they deal with these challenges, get it done, take their losses and move on.”
    Smith said the area certainly sees more drought years than it does overly wet years.
    “Normally by July and August we’re irrigating at full blast to keep things alive, but right now we’re trying to keep them from drowning,” he said. “I’ve got no tears though. I’m 60 years old and I’ve never seen two years alike.”

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