Dry stretch hurts farmers
Lack of rain affecting crops as they reach critical stage of season
CAPITAL REGION Cooper’s Ark Farm is sitting high and dry.
“We’ve got plenty of animals here, but no water,” Phil Metzger, owner of the Schoharie-based agritourism destination, said.
Metzger’s three duck ponds have all dried up, and the pastures where calves and goats graze have turned brittle and brown. Although he doesn’t have fields of vegetables to worry about watering, the dry weather has caused his income to wilt.
“We’ve had very little business during the last couple of weeks due to the heat and the drought,” he said, noting that he has canceled all farm tours until Thursday because of weather and the effects it has had on his farm.
Despite the downpours that wet parts of the area over the weekend, the Capital Region is still teetering on the verge of drought. Farmers are struggling, burn bans are in effect and several communities have posted watering restrictions.
“The official designation is ‘abnormally dry,’ which is basically the lowest level of drought,” explained Ray O’Keefe, meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “We did get some rain, but not enough to get us to where we should be,” he said, noting that there is a possibility of more precipitation on Wednesday.
Since Friday, nearly two inches of rain fell at the Albany International Airport, but Schenectady picked up only about a half-inch. Other places didn’t see a drop.
The drought is causing some serious issues on local farms.
A major worry is the hay crop, according to Steve Ammerman, spokesman for the New York Farm Bureau.
“Many farmers aren’t getting their second or third cutting, so they may have to purchase hay for their feed,” he said.
There is also some concern about the corn crop.
“Some of the leaves are starting to curl and dry a bit, and this is an important time in the corn’s growing process,” he said, adding that the Farm Bureau has not heard about any significant crop damage to date.
The effects of the drought are evident at Clark Dahlia Gardens and Greenhouses in Ballston.
“The blueberries are drying right on the bushes and just falling off,” said Kenneth Clark, who runs the farm with his wife, Anna Mae. Some of the blueberries that aren’t shriveled are smaller than usual because of the lack of water.
“The [vegetables] in the garden, they’re growing slow, they’re not producing,” he added.
Cliff Bard Jr., who runs Bard Farm in Niskayuna with his father and brother, said his fields haven’t been this dry in 10 or 15 years.
“It’s stunted the growth somewhat — the corn, squash, tomatoes, peppers. It’s strained the plants quite a bit,” he said. “Other years, it’s so muddy you can’t even get in the fields. This time last year, I got stuck with the tractor out there in the field.”
Meanwhile, the unseasonably dry weather has caused officials to place some restrictions on water use.
Lawn- and garden-watering limits are being enforced in the towns of Niskayuna and Clifton Park, among others. The town of Rotterdam has issued a ban on all outdoor watering.
The brittle vegetation brought on by the lack of rain has increased the risk of brush fires. In response, the state Department of Environmental Conservation issued a statewide ban on residential brush burning through Oct. 10.
“Individuals can still have small campfires as long as they’re smaller than four feet in length, width or diameter,” noted Rick Georgeson, DEC Region 4 spokesman.